The Gay Marriage Latino Divide; Told Through the Family of a NY Politician

If it were up to State Senator Rev. Rubén Díaz, New York would never allow for same sex marriage. Ever.

“I believe that God does not allow gay marriage. It's the Bible, it's Mother Nature," Díaz said. "It's the tradition...the culture. We are Hispanic, we just come from a different culture."

If it were up to Erica Díaz – the reverend's granddaughter, who is gay and was discharged from the U.S. Navy in 2008 because of her sexual orientation – she, other lesbians and all gay people would be able to exchange vows with whomever they want.

“I have the right to exercise my human rights to marry the person that I love,” she said. “My grandfather is old school, and I respect him. But I’m trying to get him to change his mind.”

That family rift was on full display on a rainy Sunday afternoon on the steps of the Bronx courthouse, where they each led opposing rallies on the polarizing debate.

It is a scene being played out in Latino homes all over the country, where age and religion often serve as divisive lines in the debate over gay marriage. The Díaz family debate – a microcosm of sorts for Latinos, New Yorkers and Americans nationwide – is a small sample of how Hispanics can be a swing vote in the heated fight.

As New York lawmakers push for a vote on same-sex marriage sometime before June 20, for the first time since it failed in 2009, new numbers in the state show that a majority of Latinos are in favor of gay marriage, a public sentiment that may or may not reflect a growing trend among the nation's largest minority group.

The latest polls on same sex marriage in New York, conducted by the Siena College Research Institute, show that 54 percent of Latinos would vote yes on legalizing gay marriage. This mirrors a National Gallop Poll in May which showed a majority of Americans, 53 percent, supporting marriage equality.

Some say that the fate of the same-sex marriage debate in New York, and it's support or lack thereof among Latinos, can have an impact on the national debate.

"New York has always served as a guiding light for many other states, and it won't be different this time," said Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Regardless of the numbers, Díaz refuses to believe the information out there, particularly coming from what he calls the “left media.” The reverend has, in fact, called for a boycott of El Diario/La Prensa, the largest Spanish-language newspaper in New York City and the oldest in the United States, which supports gay marriage.

Maibe Ponet, opinion editor for El Diario/La Prensa, explains why the paper has taken its stance.

“This is not so much about marriage as it is about equality," she said. "Our collective fight as Latinos should be against discrimination. We are all advocating acceptance and tolerance.”

Still, Díaz says 90 percent of Latinos would vote no against same-sex marriage if people were given the chance to cast their ballot in a public referendum.

"If they say the majority of people want it, then take it to the people," he said. "Let the 20 million residents decide."

Díaz is one of six Latino state senators who would vote on same sex marriage, but according to the New York weekly the Village Voice, he is alone in his opposition.

“You can love anybody you want, just don’t ask me to sanction it,” he declared. “Latinos are not in favor of this, definitely not. That is my experience on the street, with the people in the community.”


To understand the fluid Latino family sentiments on same-sex marriage is to understand how Latinos pray.

About two-thirds of Latinos in the United States identify themselves as Roman Catholic, according to the Pew Hispanic Research Center. The U.S. Census says more than 50 percent of all Catholics in the United States who are 25 years old or younger are Latino.

The Catholic Church has spoken clearly and consistently against Gay marriage.  Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, writes in his blog: "We are not anti anybody; we are pro-marriage."

"The definition of marriage is a given," Archbishop Dolan writes. "It is a lifelong union of love and fidelity leading, please God, to children, between one man and one woman."

The position of the Catholic laity is less clear-cut.

Dr. Joseph Palacios, a Professor of Latin American Studies at Georgetown University, who is also an openly gay Catholic priest, believes Latino Catholics should be referred to as the "movable middle."

That is, a large group of the Latino population that can swing to either side of the issue of same-sex marriage.

“There is a mythology that Latino families are traditional," Palacios said. "We have more single family households than blacks do. The kinds of families we have are not one-man and one-woman traditional anymore.

“Latino Catholics look at moral and ethical issues through the eyes of their own experiences,” he added. “They don’t hear as much about political issues from the pulpit as Evangelicals do.”

In 2010, the Public Religion Research Institute released a study regarding California’s Same-Sex Marriage debate that underscored the impact of religious beliefs on Latino views on the issue. That study showed that 57 percent of Latino Catholics in California would vote for same-sex marriage, compared to 22 percent of Latino Protestants.

Religion matters, but Palacios cautions that opinion on the matter is in flux. “It’s a matter of framing," he said. "Catholics social doctrine is a developmental theology that is constantly looking at the sign of the times.”

Evangelical Pastor Miguel Rivera, president and founder of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy & Christian Leaders (CONLAMIC), which represents 20,000 churches in 34 states, considers the outspoken Díaz a friend. Still, he believes the Evangelical church needs to do its part in toning down their political discourse at the pulpit.

"The truth is, the Evangelical church in the last 30 years has been very effective in bringing back the need of debating issues that pertain to equality of life and conservative cultural values," said Rivera, who believes same sex marriage in New York will eventually pass. " But the Evangelical church has gone too far when moral issues are being debated."

Rivera, for his part, believes that civil unions are acceptable because they pertain to state-sanctioned action. Marriage, however, is a holy institution that should not be touched by legislators, he said.

It’s a Human Rights Thing?

Both sides of the debate for same sex marriage in the Latino community differ on whether or not the issue belongs in the same conversation as immigration reform and the Civil Rights movement.

Opponents of same-sex marraige like Díaz and Rivera believe the issues are completely separate.

“The biggest tragedy, the biggest travesty, is to equate gay marriage with the tragic suffering of the black community and with the immigration issue,” Díaz proclaims. “There is no social inequality.”

Rivera argues that immigration reform is a separate political issue, and hopes that the issue of same sex marriage does not divide Latinos on comprehensive immigration reform.

As for the potential upcoming vote on recognizing gay marriage in the New York Senate, Díaz says he is not confident about staving off passage once again. He also understands the impact this vote could have on the national same sex marriage debate.

“The message will be sent from New York, and it will reach the whole world,” he said. “It is what it is.”

Adry Torres, a regular contributor to Fox News Latino, reported for this story.

Contact Bryan Llenas at or follow him on Twitter @LlenasLatino.

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