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Obama's Gay Marriage Stance Stirs Black Community


President Obama's announcement this week that he now supports gay marriage has sent political pundits into a frenzy of analysis and pontification. One key question: Does the president's decision help or hurt him with core democratic constituencies, especially African-Americans? In the election year toss-up state of North Carolina, for instance, black preachers led the charge for the recent amendment banning gay marriage.

The Reverend Patrick Wooden, senior pastor of the Upper Room Church of God in Christ, in Raleigh, North Carolina, was one of them. Here's how he reacted to the news of the president's decision.

REVEREND PATRICK WOODEN: I am going to do all that I can to influence as many people as possible to think for themselves and allow the God of Christianity and the teachings of Christianity to have more influence in their lives than any person who may be holding any political office, even if that office is the presidency of the United States of America. This particular decision I find appalling, and I could not disagree with the president more on it.

CORNISH: Here to talk more about this is NPR digital news correspondent Corey Dade. And, Corey, you've been reporting about reaction in the black community to President Obama. Is Pastor Wooden's response typical of what you found? What have you been hearing?

COREY DADE, BYLINE: Pastor Wooden's response is certainly typical among the pastors I've talked to who oppose gay marriage. So he is certainly carrying the line, so to speak, continuing to be against gay marriage even though President Obama has come for it.

When I talk to these particular pastors who oppose gay marriage, the question I always ask is: But will you vote for President Obama in November? And most of them say yes because they are not satisfied with the alternative. And I think they even understand that part of their role is to actually be on sort of the, quote-unquote, "right side of history" and reelect the first black president of the United States.

CORNISH: A lot of people have talked about the role that black ministers played for President Obama in 2008, especially in Get Out The Vote effort in Southern states in particular, like we just talked about North Carolina. So how does this complicate things for those ministers?

DADE: That's right. A lot of ministers feel that they were one of the leaders in carrying Obama's message over the last three years. And now, many of them have said that they're rethinking how hard they will work, quite frankly, to Get Out The Vote this year. If they don't - and I would guess that at this point - a small percentage of them will go that route.

But in case that is an issue, the Obama campaign will have to stand ready to come up with its own machinery to get African-Americans out to vote in November.

CORNISH: So, Corey, just to - give us the landscape here for black voters. What do the polls say over the years about how these - what stance these voters have had when it comes to same-sex marriage.

DADE: Polls show that African Americans have weakened or softened on this issue over the last several years. A Pew research poll recently showed that black opposition to gay marriage is now down to 49 percent from 2004 when it was at 67 percent. And notably, that opposition actually receded more quickly after 2008. And obviously then we had the election of President Obama, and since then, more young voters have come into the electorate who are more open to gay rights.

CORNISH: Does President Obama's evolution, as he calls it, change the broader debate among African-Americans about homosexuality and gay rights?

DADE: Well, that's the interesting thing here. President Obama has enormous influence with the African-American community. And this debate goes way beyond gay marriage. It addresses kind of the broader issue of just homosexuality. I came across some interesting research that a professor did at Menlo College. She did a poll of African-Americans in the Chicago area. They were asked to support gay marriage.

And what they found was that the race of the caller actually made it more likely that the respondent would support gay marriage. So their theory is that when an African-American steps out in support of gay marriage and gay rights, it increases the likelihood that African-Americans will follow. So there is a theory out there that Obama could have that effect here.

CORNISH: NPR digital news correspondent Corey Dade. Corey, thank you for talking with us.

DADE: Thank you, Audie.

CORNISH: And to read more of Corey's reporting, you can visit the It's All Politics blog at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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