I have long believed that social issues including gay marriage would be a key for Republicans to connect with minority Latino and African American voters. Connecting with these voters on issues of morality and faith represented a huge opportunity to make inroads with a voting bloc Democrats have dominated for decades.

But since President Barack Obama’s “evolution” and new-found support for gay marriage, the tides seem to be changing and the GOP may have missed its window of opportunity:

When California voted for a gay marriage ban in 2008, 70 percent of African Americans voted for it, and when North Carolina overwhelmingly passed a similar measure earlier this year, many cited the black vote as a big reason. (Shortly after the ban passed in North Carolina, President Obama came out in favor of gay marriage.)

On Tuesday in Maryland, though, 46 percent of African Americans supported gay marriage. And according to national exit polls, 52 percent of both black and Latino voters who turned out Tuesday said they support gay marriage in their states.

(The largest shift came from black women, of which 59 percent now support gay marriage, compared to 42 percent of black men — a huge gender gap.)

That’s a big turnaround from recent years. In 2008 and 2009, a Pew Research Center survey showed just 28 percent of African Americans and 39 percent of Latinos backed gay marriage. And by 2010, support in those communities was rising slower than it was among whites.

The exit polls suggest both groups have now moved in large numbers toward supporting gay marriage. Their shifts may not be bigger than other demographics, but the fact that they are shifting at all (after sticking to their opposition) is what’s really significant here.

And given their affinity for President Obama — 93 percent of African Americans and 71 percent of Latinos voted for the president — it’s not unreasonable to think that his support had an impact.

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