It may have been a political risk, but the fundraisers at President Obama’s Chicago headquarters certainly didn’t think so. In the 90 minutes after the president’s endorsement of same-sex marriage, the campaign collected more than $1 million. As the day went on, the number kept growing.
So too, in fact, did the guest list at Obama’s high-priced fundraiser Thursday night in Los Angeles at the home of Hollywood icon George Clooney. Tickets to the event were priced at $40,000. By early Thursday, the event had revised its estimates and expected to bring in $15 million, split between the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
All the while, the announcement that the White House declared was “difficult” and not about politics ended up taking a decidedly political turn.
Less than 24 hours after Obama’s announcement, his campaign moved quickly to peg presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney as on the losing side of the issue. A new campaign ad contrasting Obama and Romney appeared on Obama’s campaign web site, highlighting several years of fervent opposition by Romney to both same-sex marriage and rights for people in civil unions.
The ad doesn’t just ding Romney for being at odds with Obama on a fervent social issue. It actively plays up the backward angle, arguing that Romney’s stated preference–for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in all 50 states–would shift the country into reverse. It would also, the ad points out, be the first modern constitutional amendment to deny rights, rather than grant them.
To demonstrate how extreme that view is, Obama’s team pulled out old footage. Even George W. Bush endorsed civil unions, Obama’s emissaries are eager to point out to Republican voters.
“I don’t think we should deny people rights to a civil union,” Bush said back in 2004.
Part of Romney’s rationale in the ad is how complicated marriage would become if extended beyond man-woman partnerships.
“Calling it ‘marriage’ creates a whole host of problems for families, the law, for the practice of religion, for education,” Romney said in a debate earlier this year year. “Let me say this, 3,000 years of human history shouldn’t be discarded so quickly.”
Neither candidate has minced his words on this issue, especially after Obama’s foray onto a shaky political branch on Wednesday. But what’s lost in the forward-backward rhetoric is that, until Wednesday, Obama and Romney haven’t been that far away from each other on the issue.
Romney has long been opposed to gay partnerships being defined specifically as marriage. But Romney has in the past supported some partnership benefits for same-sex couples, specifically during his 2002 run for governor of Massachusetts.
Until Wednesday, Obama felt largely the same (although senior administration officials told The Daily Beast that Obama had changed his mind more than a year ago). He opposed the marriage designation, but went a little further than Romney, endorsing civil unions and benefits like hospital visitation and insurance sharing.
Yet after Obama’s announcement on Wednesday, the two men’s positions catapulted to the poles: Obama for, Romney against, and no overlap in the middle. Which makes the forward vs. backward characterization a semantically fair one, although the “backward” label is more subjective than factual, based on how one views the marriage issue.
But what’s certain is that neither candidate actually wants to linger on marriage for too long. As a charged social issue longstanding in the political discourse, a decreasing number of voters are still undecided about same-sex marriage. And both campaigns realize the peril of turning off all-important independents.