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Gay Marriage, Homosexuality Find Growing Support Among US Latinos


In the U.S., support for gay marriage among Latinos is growing rapidly. That’s according to recent survey data collected by the Pew Hispanic Center.

Photo by Veronica Zaragovia

L-R: Liz Hernandez, Jose Garcia, Karina Calderon, Adan, Liceth Reyes, Fatima Medina and Maria Calderon are all part of a Chicano student movement at University of Nevada Las Vegas called M.E.Ch.A. In this December 2012 photograph, they are freely discussing their identity as Latino and gay, a topic frequently discussed.

— The United States Supreme Court has agreed to rule on two challenges to federal and state laws that define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

In the U.S., support for gay marriage among Latinos is growing rapidly. That’s according to survey data collected by the Pew Hispanic Center between September and October 2012. But many young gay and lesbian Latinos are still struggling to find acceptance.

Leo Murrieta’s parents were Evangelical missionaries from Mexico when they came to Las Vegas with their children in 1986. Murrieta was a newborn then. It wasn’t until he was in his early 20s that he told his mother he was gay.

"She told me a story of my childbirth," Murrieta said. "She had to struggle during delivering me. And she told me that essentially it was a wasted effort."

Murrieta said it was hard to hear that his mother regretted giving birth to him. After that conversation, he said they didn’t talk to each other and his church no longer welcomed him.

"I had the six most difficult months of my life because those six months of my life I spent contemplating suicide every day because my life was so different," Murrieta said.

Though his mother has never embraced his homosexuality, Murrieta said she’s shifting her political views.

"She’s never apologized for what she said," he added. "She’s kind of come full circle on it. She even supports LGBT right to marry, but it was a long process from 2009 where my mother was to 2012 where my mother is now."

The last decade has marked a rapid transition in views towards homosexuality in the Latino community. The Pew report shows that approval of legalizing gay marriage has jumped more than 20 percent in the last six years. Mark Hugo Lopez is an associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center.

"That is a significant jump. That’s a reversal of the opinions Latinos had back in 2006," Lopez said.

Lopez also said first-generation Latino immigrants may be adhering to more conservative and religious views. The younger generation, many second-generation immigrants, feel differently.

"We find that among immigrant adults, half of them -- 53 percent -- say that homosexuality should be accepted by society. When you take a look at second-generation or higher Latinos, about two-thirds say homosexuality should be accepted by society," Lopez said.

On a recent Monday night in December, Fatima Medina, a student at University of Nevada Las Vegas, was talking freely with peers about being Latino and being gay.

"I had a...a girlfriend in seventh grade. And actually my parents had found a love note....," Medina said in a roundtable discussion.

They’re part of a decades-old college group called M.E.Ch.A., or Chicano student movement. It traces its origins back to the civil rights movement of the 60s, and now fighting homophobia among its causes.

Jose Garcia, 20, is part of the M.E.Ch.A. group. He has a good relationship with his mother.

"She’s like 'I really support you and I love you,' but I feel that she’s not fully there yet because she’s not comfortable talking to other people about it and in certain spaces she’s not comfortable talking to me about it," Garcia said.

A sizable minority of the Latino community remains opposed to open homosexuality and that resistance is especially prominent among religious Latinos. Jesus Marquez, 37, has a cousin who is lesbian.

"We love her 100 percent but we don’t love her actions," Marquez said. "Obviously she sees that we in our family we try to read the Bible a lot, we go to church, so that’s why she decides to do her gay activities away from us."

Still, young Latinos like Jose Garcia and his peers make up a substantial and growing portion of the Latino population. According to Pew Hispanic Center, Latinos are the nation’s youngest ethnic group. Pew’s Mark Hugo Lopez said that in itself may account for the rapid change in views about homosexuality and gay marriage.

"Because the Hispanic population is much younger, that may be playing a larger role in driving some of these changes we see in attitudes among Latinos toward gay marriage," Lopez said.

The changing attitudes in the Latino community on homosexuality and gay marriage reflect the changing attitudes across the U.S. as a whole. And with 50,000 young Latinos turning 18 each month, acceptance of homosexuality is likely to grow more widespread in the next decade.

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