(Reuters) - More than half of Latinos favor same-sex marriage, and Latino Catholics are much more supportive of President Barack Obama than Latino evangelicals, according to a Pew poll on religion and politics released Thursday.
For the first time since the Pew Hispanic Center began asking the question in its National Survey of Latinos, more Hispanics favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally than oppose same-sex marriage, by 52 percent to 34 percent. As recently as 2006, those figures were reversed, with 56 percent of Latinos opposing same-sex marriage while 31 percent supported it.
Despite increased activism against same-sex marriage by some U.S. Roman Catholic bishops this election season, Latino Catholics are more supportive of same-sex marriage than Latino evangelical Protestants, the Pew survey found, by 54 percent compared with 25 percent. Latinos who are religiously unaffiliated favor same-sex marriage by 71 percent.
"Growing support among Latinos for civil marriage equality is not at all surprising," said Lourdes Rodriguez-Nogues, President of DignityUSA, a Catholic group that favors gay and lesbian rights. "The importance of family across Latino cultures means that they want the best for all of their members, including those who are gay and lesbian."
The survey also confirmed past studies that most Latino registered voters favor Obama over Republican challenger Mitt Romney, by 69 percent to 21 percent, compared to the general public, which is more evenly divided.
But Latinos are divided by their religion - three-quarters of Latino Catholic registered voters and eight out of ten religiously unaffiliated Latinos support Obama. In contrast, half of Latino evangelical voters support Obama, while 39 percent support Romney. Latino evangelicals account for 16 percent of Latino voters.
Obama's declaration of support for gay marriage May 9 may have prompted some Americans, especially blacks and Hispanics, to reconsider their opposition, an analysis of Reuters/Ipsos poll data showed in May. The data found that fewer blacks and Hispanics opposed gay marriage after Obama's remarks than before.
Also Thursday, The Catholic Association, a Virginia-based group not affiliated with the official church, announced that it will start distributing its "Religious Liberty Scorecard," which praises Romney's stance on religious issues, in Spanish as well as English.
Thursday's survey was conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, both projects of the Pew Research Center in Washington. It was conducted between September 7 and October 4, before the presidential debates, and surveyed 1,765 Latino adults, including 903 registered Latino voters. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.6 percent for questions involving registered voters only, and 3.2 percent for other questions.
The Latino electorate includes 23.7 million, or 11 percent, of eligible U.S. voters, an increase of more than 4 million since 2008, according to the report.
Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Jackie Frank