By The Associated Press
President Barack Obama's shift to support gay marriage is energizing young Hispanic voters who have been working side-by-side with gay activists in their push for immigration reform. The alliance has been growing nationwide and helping dispel what many say is an outdated notion that Hispanics are less tolerant of gays than the general public.
"My members are telling me that we need to learn from the gay community," said Dee Dee Garcia Blase, founder of the Phoenix-based Somos Republicans. She is now head of the Tequila Party, which she formed last year with the goal of registering young Hispanics to vote for immigration-friendly candidates like Obama.
"We need to take a lesson from the (lesbian and gay) community with regard to being that loud, squeaky wheel that gets fixed," Blase said. "We need to be more aggressive, and we realize it."
The co-president of Blase's Tequila Party, Shara Mora James, is gay. And two leaders in the movement to pass the DREAM Act have recently taken over two emerging gay rights groups, Freedom to Work and Get Equal.
For many young Hispanics, both immigrant and U.S.-born, the DREAM Act — which would offer students who entered the country illegally as children a pathway to citizenship — is a key issue. Obama supports the proposal, while Romney's hard line against the measure, which he has called a handout, has alienated many Hispanic voters. The Pew Hispanic Center found in a December 2011 survey that 91 percent support the legislation.
Both the Democratic and Republican parties are focused heavily on winning the Hispanic vote, not just because it holds the key to battleground states but because Latinos make up the fastest-growing minority group. The government projects Hispanics will account for roughly 30 percent of the population by 2050, doubling in size and boosting their political power. Some 600,000 young Hispanics who were born in the U.S. turn 18 each year, entering a widening pool of more than 21 million Hispanic eligible voters.
Conservative Hispanics see the president's endorsement of same-sex marriage as an opportunity to draw Latinos to the Republican Party. According to a 2007 religion survey of U.S. Latinos by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life, two-thirds of Hispanics said their religious beliefs are an important influence on their political thinking.
But a poll released in April 2011 by the National Council of La Raza, the nation's largest Hispanic civil rights advocacy organization, and Social Science Research Solutions, a public opinion research firm, indicated that a surprising 69 percent favored allowing gay or lesbian couples to marry in their church or religious institution and 52 percent did not view homosexuality as a sin, compared to 38 percent who did. Some 69 percent said good Christians should accept all people as God's creation and not cast judgment, while 60 percent viewed discrimination against gays and lesbians as a sin. Most of those surveyed, 71 percent, were under the age of 50.