Are African-Americans less supportive of homosexuality than other racial and ethnic groups? The answer is an emphatic yes. But, the reasons have more to do with religion than race.
"While the U.S. is generally considered a highly religious nation, African-Americans are markedly more religious on a variety of measures than the U.S. population, including level of affiliation with religion, attendance at religious services, frequency of prayer and religion's importance in life," observes a report titled, A Religious Portrait of African-Americans by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
The report noted, "Nearly eight in ten African Americans (79 percent) say religion is very important in their lives, compared with 56 percent among U.S. adults. In fact, even a large majority (72 percent) of African-Americans who are unaffiliated with any particular faith say religion plays at least a somewhat important role in their lives, nearly half (45 percent) of unaffiliated African-Americans say religion is very important in their lives, roughly three times the percentage who says this among the religiously unaffiliated population overall (16 percent)."
And, African-Americans are more likely to act on their religious beliefs.
"More than half of African Americans (53 percent) report attending religious services at least once a week, more than three-in-four (76 percent) say they pray on at least a daily basis and nearly nine-in-ten (88 percent) indicate they are absolutely certain that God exists. On each of these measures, African- Americans stand out as the most religiously committed racial or ethnic group in the nation," the report stated.
Among the most religiously committed, no group is more committed than African-American women. The report found that 84 percent of Black women say religion is very important to them and 59 percent say they attend religious services at least once a week.
Given African Americans' close affiliation with the church, it should come as no surprise that most Blacks oppose homosexuality.
"Blacks are much more likely to think that homosexuality is morally wrong (64 percent) than Whites (48 percent) or Hispanics (43 percent)," according to a Pew poll last year on civil unions and gay marriage.
Again, that should be placed within the larger context of religion.
"Overall, two-thirds of those who attend services at least weekly say homosexual behavior is morally wrong, compared with 43 percent of those who attend services monthly or yearly and 32 percent of those who seldom or never attend," the report stated.
A survey released Wednesday that combines two recent polls by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life shows that 43 percent of the public favor same-sex marriage and 48 percent oppose it. The report, Gay Marriage Gains More Acceptance, represents the first time in the 15 years Pew has been polling that fewer than half of Americans oppose same-sex marriage.
"Blacks continue to oppose same-sex marriage by a wide margin," the new report states. "In 2010, just 30 percent of non-Hispanic Blacks favor gay marriage while 59 percent are opposed. From 2008 to 2000, 28 percent of Blacks favored same-sex marriage and 62 percent were opposed."
The number of African-Americans in favor of allowing gays to serve openly in the military has dropped from 57 percent in 1994 to 48 percent in 2010. During the same period, White support increased from 51 percent to 63 percent.
There are other variations as well, with younger and more educated people more likely to favor same-sex marriage than their older and less educated counterparts. Geography is a factor as well, with a majority of Southerners opposed to same-sex marriage, the Midwest and West were about evenly divided and the Northeast supported gay marriage by a margin of 49 percent to 41 percent.
The new study did not address civil unions, which would give unmarried gay and lesbian couples many of the rights now enjoyed by married heterosexual couples. A Pew poll last year revealed that Blacks support civil unions rather than gay marriages, with 43 percent of Black Protestants in favor of civil unions and 49 percent opposed. Overall, 57 percent of Americans favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to enter into civil unions, up from 45 percent in 2003.
Interestingly, the poll on civil unions and gay marriage noted that 64 percent of Americans say gays and lesbians encounter a lot of discrimination, facing more discrimination than Muslims (58 percent), Latinos (52 percent), Blacks (49 percent) or women (37 percent).
Gregory B. Lewis of the Andrew Young School of Public Policy Studies at Georgia State University examined data from 31 public opinion polls conducted between 1973 and 2000, which involved nearly 7,000 Blacks and 43,000 Whites. In 2003, his analysis was published in Public Opinion Quarterly. Lewis concluded, "Despite their greater disapproval of homosexuality, African-American opinion on gay civil liberties and employment discrimination are quite similar to whites' opinions, and African-Americans are more likely to support laws prohibiting anti-gay discrimination."
Many African-Americans are influenced by the Bible and their religious leaders. Black preachers tend to address social issues such as school prayer, the death penalty, and homosexuality more than their White counterparts.
In one survey, nearly 50 percent of African-American churchgoers reported that their pastors regularly expressed negative viewpoints toward homosexuality. In one Baltimore study, 68 percent of the Black respondents said their pastor had preached that homosexuality was a sin or immoral.
Ministers point to various passages of the Bible to justify their stand against homosexuality, including Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9 and the most quoted Scripture on the subject, Leviticus 18:22, which reads, "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination."
In its 2009 report titled, At the Crossroads: African American Same Gender Loving Families and the Freedom to Marry, the National Black Justice Coalition, the nation's only African-American gay civil rights organization, said: "The 'homosexuality is a choice' rhetoric is also preached by African-American ministers in their churches. Arguing that as a result gays are not entitled to certain rights and protections in the same way African-Americans are, creates a wedge between African-American and gay communities."
To some, it is a wedge unlikely to disappear.
During a Freedom Weekend panel discussion earlier this year in Detroit, Anthony Samad, a scholar, social activist, and columnist, told supporters of gays and lesbians: "…What you're asking African Americans to do is go against their belief system, which is the church. Most of them believe a marriage should be between a man and a woman. You're asking them to choose between your cause and their church."