Gay Marriage Fight

05.10.12

Mark McKinnon: Obama Did the Right Thing on Gay Marriage

Who cares if it was a political move? Mark McKinnon on why gay and straight Americans should be proud that Obama’s public position on same-sex marriage finally matches his private feelings.

I don't really care how or why President Obama got to the right place on gay marriage. I'm just glad he got there. 

Now we know that Joe "Bomb" Biden simply accelerated a decision that had been planned for some time in the coming months before the Democratic convention.

But good for the president for catching up to the forward bending arc of history on an issue our grandchildren will look back on and wonder why it was ever an issue, just as we do today about women's right to vote. I know many of my Republican friends take literally words written in scripture 2,000 years ago. But I take literally words written in the Declaration of Independence 200 years ago that guarantees the right to the pursuit of happiness. And if Republicans truly believe in personal freedom and that government should stay out of our lives, then I think the philosophy should be consistent and apply across the board.

Leaders should do the right thing on big, moral issues and damn the political consequences. Ha, that's a good one. Rarely happens. And in fact, as we know, Obama supported gay marriage as a candidate for state senator, then flip-flopped on the issue as a candidate for president.   

The reality is politics drives most decisions. The pressure on this issue on the president from Democratic constituencies has been long and intense. And one gets the sense that he is relieved to have finally arrived at a public position that squares with his private feelings.

I take literally words written in the Declaration of Independence 200 years ago that guarantees the right to the pursuit of happiness.

But how do the politics net out on this issue for Obama? The reality is that his "evolution" is not a surprise to many people.  

The administration justice department had been reluctant to enforce Defense of Marriage Act cases. Those for whom this issue matters as a voting matter were already going to vote for Romney if they were against gay marriage and Obama if they were for it. The only difference is strong proponents of gay marriage will now vote proudly for Obama.

The fact that Obama's decision came a day after voters in the key swing state of North Carolina resoundingly defeated a ballot measure that sought to approve gay marriage, however, does highlight some potential political cost. Obama won the state by only 14,000 votes.

So, will this issue matter to enough voters to make a difference in a state that could swing the election? I would argue that for every voter that has enough concern on this issue for Obama that it would switch their vote against him, there is another one that may give him credit for the evolution even if they disagree on the issue—because they see the move as one based on character and principle. (What is likely to have a greater net impact in North Carolina is the number of newly registered Hispanic voters).

So, in the end, whether it was a decision driven by politics or based on principle and character, I'll take it either way. Because now I don't have to explain to my grandchildren why America would deny the right of millions of Americans to pursue happiness.