Editors' Note: Glenn D. Magpantay is the Democracy Program Director at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF).
There's much speculation, excitement, and fear about the Supreme Court's imminent decision on the fate of DOMA and California's Proposition 8. Most Americans support the right to marry for same-sex couples. Yet, one increasingly important demographic group still has to be convinced.
(Graphic: Support levels for marriage equality by ethnicity. Click to enlarge.)
Asian Americans - which includes East Asians, South Asians, and Southeast Asians - are the nation's fastest growing minority group, but an exit poll by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) revealed a lack of support, if not outright opposition, to same-sex marriage.
AALDEF polled 9,096 Asian American voters in the November 2012 elections. The poll was conducted in 14 states in twelve Asian languages. It was the largest multilingual exit poll of its kind and it was the first time that Asian American support for same-sex marriage had been polled on such a national and representative scale.
Unfortunately, most Asian American voters did not support the right of same-sex couples to legally marry.
Only a third (37%) of Asian American voters polled supported the right of same-sex couples to legally marry. Almost half (48%) were opposed. 15% were undecided. This was consistent for each Asian ethnic group, including Chinese, Koreans, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Filipinos, Asian Indians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, and Indo-Caribbeans.
The greatest opposition came from Asian Americans who were foreign-born, limited English proficient and older. This cut makes up the largest portion of the Asian American electorate. A fifth (21%) of Asian American voters polled was born in the U.S. 79% were foreign-born citizens who naturalized.
Only 15% of Asian Americans who were limited English proficient supported same-sex marriage. About half of Asian American voters got their news about politics and community issues from Asian ethnic and foreign-language media outlets (48%).
Support did not break fifty percent by gender, college education, or Democratic Party affiliation.
40% of Asian American women and 33% of Asian American men supported same-sex marriage. Whereas, 43% of women and 53% of men opposed same-sex marriage.
Only 49% of college educated Asians supported same-sex marriage, but those with a graduate degree, supported marriage at 53%.
Support for same-sex marriage was higher among Asian American Democrats at 43%; than Republicans at 21% and those not enrolled in any political party at 34%. 42% of Democrats said opposed to same-sex marriage, 15% "did not know." 68% of Republicans opposed and 11% "did not know." 48% of those not enrolled in a political party opposed and 18% "did not know."
There was much variation in individual states.
Most states where majorities of Asian American supported same-sex marriage were in the states that had legalized same-sex marriage, such as Massachusetts (55%), California (52%), and the District of Columbia (76%). But not in New York (34%).
In Maryland, where the same-sex marriage referendum was approved in the fall, only 43% of Asian Americans supported same-sex marriage.
And target states considering same-sex marriage found dismal support such as New Jersey (20%) and Pennsylvania (40%).
But there are some positive signs.
The greatest support for same-sex marriage came from Asian American voters who were native-born, younger, highly educated, and fully English proficient. For example, 75% of Asian Americans born in the U.S. supported same-sex marriage. Political Scientist Ken Sherrill who ran the post-Prop 8 survey observed that this number is even higher than the overall population's support for same-sex marriage.
Support for same-sex marriage was likewise high (65%) among voters between the ages of 18 to 29. As this population "grows up" they will become the Asian American electorate.
Finally, there is a large movable middle that can be swayed on this issue. For example one in five (18%) of Chinese and Asian Indians were undecided. There are the two largest Asian ethnic groups. The LGBT community has to make the case for same-sex marriage among Asian American in the same that they have done that for other groups.
Prior to AALDEF's exit poll, there was very little data on Asian American voter support for same-sex marriage. The findings underscores that more education on same-sex marriage, particularly in Asian languages and in Asian ethnic media outlets is needed. Regardless of the Supreme Court's decision, the struggle will continue.
About the exit poll: AALDEF's multilingual exit polls reveal vital information about Asian American voting patterns that is often overlooked in mainstream voter surveys. AALDEF has conducted exit polls of Asian American voters in every major election since 1988. In 2012, more than 100 community groups and organizations joined AALDEF to mobilize over 800 attorneys, law students, and volunteers to conduct the exit poll and to safeguard the voting rights of Asian Americans.