The president’s bold support shifted the mainstream. Andrew Sullivan on why it shouldn't be surprising—Obama’s life as a biracial man has deep ties to the gay experience.
Both parties are calculating the impact from Obama’s announcement on his reelection chances. Andrew Romano on why it won’t move the needle much.
Could Barack Obama be the next Patrick Murphy?
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama wave after a campaign event in Richmond, Va, .May 5, 2012 (Brendan Smialowski, AFP / Getty Images)
Throughout 2010, Murphy, an Iraq War veteran and West Point instructor first elected to the House of Representatives four years earlier, worked tirelessly to convince other moderate Democrats to support his Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal bill. At the same time he was running for reelection in a district that was more conservative on the issue: Pennsylvania’s Eighth, which encompasses the white-ethnic neighborhoods of northeast Philadelphia, the swing-voter suburbs of Montgomery County, the blue-collar towns of Lower Bucks County, and the agricultural areas to the north.
Asked in late October if he was worried that adopting DADT as his signature issue would hurt him politically, Murphy didn’t blink. “Absolutely not," he said. "I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution as an Army officer and as a congressman. I take that oath to heart, and I'm going to fight for the values that are in our Constitution.”
Two weeks later, Murphy lost his seat by 7 percentage points.
Now Republicans are hoping that Obama will suffer the same fate. For a few minutes after the president came out in favor of gay marriage Wednesday, Washington paused to reflect on the historical significance of his announcement. Then it got back to doing what it does best: speculating about something’s so-called political impact (regardless of whether that impact can actually be assessed with the information at hand). In this case the question was whether Obama’s gay-marriage gambit would hurt him with the all-important swing voters who will decide November’s election.
Even Murphy, reached by phone that afternoon, seemed to think it might. “Clearly this is not the most politically popular move with an election six months away,” he told me. “As Bobby Kennedy once said, ‘Change is hard because change has enemies.’ I know the enemies of marriage equality will be mobilized to take the fight to the Philadelphia suburbs.”
Murphy is undoubtedly right. But here’s the thing that all of these salivating GOP strategists—and Democratic worrywarts—may be overlooking: if you actually sit down and try to identify which votes (in which states) Obama is likely to lose over gay marriage, it’s tough to come up with much.
Booker T. Washington came for dinner, a first for an African-American. Deborah Davis, author of ‘Guest of Honor,’ on how Roosevelt broke the barrier—but paid a price, too.
President Barack Obama’s bold endorsement of same-sex marriage calls to mind a previous instance when a sitting United States president took a stand on a charged social issue. On Oct. 16, 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt expressed his personal feelings about racial equality when he invited Booker T. Washington, distinguished educator and renowned African-American leader, to dine with the first family at the White House. Though blacks had built the White House, worked for most of the presidents, held political office, and occasionally met with the chief executive in his office to discuss business, not a single African-American had ever been invited to dine there.
President Obama speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 3. Inset: Theodore Roosevelt addresses a crowd of 50,000 on July 21, 1915. (AP Photo)
The news that this longstanding color line had been crossed sent shock waves through the nation, provoking a flurry of inflammatory newspaper articles. “The most damnable outrage which has ever been perpetuated by any citizen of the United States was committed yesterday by the president,” was one indignant headline on the subject. There were scabrous political cartoons, fire-and-brimstone speeches, vulgar songs, and even a satiric, anti-Roosevelt/Washington film, with a white actor in blackface. The scandal escalated to the point where it ignited a storm of controversy, divided the country, and threatened to topple two of America’s greatest men—and all because Roosevelt did what he believed was right.
Roosevelt and Booker T. Washington were genuinely unprepared for the nation’s explosive reaction and struggled to deal with it. While the Obama administration is more sophisticated in anticipating—and deflecting—the country’s responses to controversial issues, there are valuable lessons to be learned from this historic conflagration. If Theodore Roosevelt were alive today, and could share a “President’s Club” moment with Obama, he might offer him the following advice about what to expect in the days, weeks, and years ahead.
Know that you have given the opposition a powerful weapon and they will happily use it against you.
In 1901, those who believed in racial equality saw the Washington/Roosevelt dinner as a giant step forward and a cause for celebration, but their opponents, mostly Southern Democrats, were equally celebratory. Their mission was to make the ever-popular Roosevelt, a Republican, unpopular, and the good news was that the president was doing their work for them. Senator “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman of South Carolina told his fellow Democrats, “Use it for all it’s worth,” urging them to act quickly and viciously, and they complied, spreading the word that “both politically and socially, President Roosevelt proposes to coddle descendants of Ham.”
Your endorsement of gay marriage may actually make life harder for members of the LGBT community.
News of the White House dinner provoked a wave of rampant violence and racism, especially in the South. The aforementioned Ben Tillman and extremists like him used the dinner to widen the existing divide between the races. “The action of President Roosevelt in entertaining that n----- will necessitate our killing a thousand n------ in the South before they will learn their place again,” Tillman announced to his approving constituency. Booker T. Washington, the most visible African-American in the country, received numerous death threats, and blacks throughout the South were vulnerable to bigots who felt compelled to take a vehement stand on the issue of racial equality.
Gay supporters throw weight behind the campaign.
Money rolled into President Obama’s campaign after he announced his support of gay marriage earlier this week. “The phone calls went on until one in the morning after the president spoke—people calling saying ‘Where do I go, what can I do to help, what events are coming up,’” said Robert Zimmerman, a New York organizer. The president’s aides haven’t confirmed an amount, but today Obama attended a fundraiser for gay and lesbian donors hosted by Ricky Martin, and will be doing a second one in June. Before Obama made his views on gay marriage public, his track record of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” among other stances had hinted at his views.
Sarah Palin’s daughter bashed Obama’s gay-marriage endorsement—and dragged Malia and Sasha into the fight. Read her takes on other big issues, from gas prices to Hillary without makeup.
This week, President Obama finally completed his “evolution” on gay marriage, and in the days since, many a talking head has weighed in on the president’s historic endorsement. Among these politicians, elected officials, scholars, and activists on both sides of the aisle is Bristol Palin, herself an authority on traditional families. Bristol took to her blog, Bristol’s Blog, to express her disappointment with Obama.
Bristol Palin attends the Candie's Foundation 2011 event to prevent benefit gala at Cipriani 42nd Street on May 3, 2011 in New York City. (Andy Kropa / Getty Images)
Palin took particular issue with Obama’s note that he changed his mind, in part, because he was unable to explain to his daughters why their friends’ gay parents should be treated differently. Since when is it OK for the president of the United States of America to make important decisions based on what his Gleeked-out teenage daughters think, Bristol demanded. “In this case, it would’ve been helpful for him to explain to Malia and Sasha that while her friends parents are no doubt lovely people, that’s not a reason to change thousands of years of thinking about marriage,” Palin wrote. “Or that—as great as her friends may be—we know that in general kids do better growing up in a mother/father home. Ideally, fathers help shape their kids’ worldview.”
The irony of this statement probably goes without stating, as Palin is a single mother who got pregnant out of wedlock as a teenager. What’s fascinating, though, is that, for someone who’s racked up ++an admitted slew of public mistakes by her 21st birthday, Palin feels compelled to weigh in on almost every contentious issue—often trapping herself inside a glass house with a fistful of stones. The Daily Beast dug into the annals of Bristol’s blog and public statements for a broader sample of her punditry.
On Sex Before Marriage
Bristol Palin was not an abstinent teen—as evidenced by the 3-year-old son often seen resting on her hip. After giving birth in 2009, the then-18-year-old mother admitted that she wished she’d waited another 10 years before getting pregnant, but said encouraging all teens to practice abstinence is “not realistic at all.” Then the Candies Foundation came along. On a mission to promote abstinence to teenagers, the fashion brand’s anti-teen-pregnancy organization offered Palin a reported $262,000 to be their spokeswoman. Before long Bristol was appearing in awkward TV ads with Jersey Shore’s Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino, urging him to “pause before you play” and swearing off sex before marriage to avoid “another situation.” The Daily Beast’s Michelle Goldberg argued that Palin “might say that pregnancy is something to be avoided, but the story of her life speaks louder. If you’re cute and lucky, it says, getting pregnant can be a way to get paid lots of money for doing nothing at all.”
On Sandra Fluke
After being called a “slut” by Rush Limbaugh, Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke was surely in need of a confidence booster, and President Obama decided to be the one to make her feel better. Obama called Fluke, condemned Limbaugh’s words and said her parents “should be proud.” Meanwhile, Bristol Palin is still sitting by the phone, waiting for the president to call her. Bill Maher—who donated $1 million to Obama’s reelection super PAC—has said some awfully nasty things about her, Bristol pointed out in an open letter to Obama on her blog, and suggested “If Maher talked about Malia and Sasha that way, you’d return his dirty money and the Secret Service would probably have to restrain you.” Palin admitted that she wasn’t really expecting Obama to return Maher’s money, or even to call her. “But would it be too much to expect a little consistency?” she wrote. “After all, you’re President of all Americans, not just the liberals.”
Gay marriage’s strange politics have pitted Democrats and Republicans on the opposite side of the constitutional right vs. states’ rights. John Avlon talks to a legal expert about how the issue could proceed.
There is a small but telling irony beneath the gay-marriage debate: the Republican candidate favors changing the constitution; the Democrat is backing states’ rights.
It’s a role reversal that reflects the outcome-based, situational ethics beneath many supposedly principled ideological and partisan divides. The more transcendent truths are found in the traditionalism of conservatives and the progressivism of liberals, for better or worse.
Romney’s reversal from backing “full equality” for gays and lesbians back in 2002-era Massachusetts to his embrace of a Federal Marriage Amendment today is striking even by his standards—because few Republicans not running for president have advocated resuscitating that bad idea from Bush-Cheney 2004. Instead, some of the architects of that original plan have been busy apologizing for it in the intervening years. Dick Cheney supports the freedom to marry. And federalism was the argument hotly advanced by the Tea Party against health-care reform.
But Obama’s evolution to supporting marriage equality comes with its own irony—namely because while he said he personally supports gay marriage, he still believes it should be left for individual states to decide. States’ rights were, of course, once the high-minded defense for slavery and segregation. But that caveat was necessary for the president to soften the assertion politically, at least until the election is over and the Supreme Court decides to take up the case.
Both candidates’ decisions were the result of politics—party politics in Romney’s case and national politics in Obama’s case. And to pull back the veil on this bit of Kabuki theater, I called Noah Feldman, professor at Harvard Law and author of Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR's Great Supreme Court Justices.
Romney’s reversal from backing “full equality” for gays and lesbians back in 2002-era Massachusetts to his embrace of a Federal Marriage Amendment today is striking even by his standards—because few Republicans not running for president have advocated resuscitating that bad idea from Bush-Cheney 2004. (Tim Sloan, AFP / Getty Images)
“A constitutional amendment is the last refuge of people who think they're going to lose in the Supreme Court,” explained Feldman. “The analogy would be someone who says, after Roe v. Wade, we need a federal constitutional amendment prohibiting abortion, because there’s no other way to beat the Supreme Court.”
But on the other side, “if and when the Supreme Court does take up the issue, the Obama administration—after Obama said what he said—is going to have to write an amicus brief saying that there is a fundamental constitutional right to gay marriage. There is still one more notch for him to evolve,” said Feldman.
African Americans who oppose gay marriage are reconsidering their beliefs, thanks to Obama’s shift, Allison Samuels reports.
Annie May Johnson grew up next to the tobacco field her parents worked in Lillington, North Carolina. At 75 years old, Johnson long held the belief that marriage is strictly between a man and a woman, no matter the times. That’s what her parents taught her years ago, and it’s what the good Rev. Mosley preached each Sunday morning at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church during her childhood.
Johnson never believed her view on the issue would waver. But that all changed on Wednesday, when President Obama announced publicly that he was in favor of same-sex marriage, a change from his 2008 campaign stand. Saying his beliefs had evolved from his support of civil unions instead of same-sex marriages, Obama sent ripples through the country and caused Annie May Johnson to take a second look at an issue she thought she’d decided on long ago.
“I always saw marriage as a man and a woman being together for a lifetime,’’ says Johnson, on the phone from her North Carolina home. “That’s all I ever saw growing up, and that is all my parents saw in their day. But when Obama said he now was in favor of it, I thought maybe I’ve been too pigheaded about this thing for too long.’’
Johnson is like many older, deeply religious blacks in this country—women in particular—who attend church each Sunday, tithe 10 percent of their income without fail to their religious institution of choice, and try as best they can to live life by the letter of the Bible.
She’s also among many in the black community who believe in giving the first African-American president the benefit of the doubt on controversial political issues, even if his view is worlds apart from their own way of thinking.
President Barack Obama as he greets supporters after addressing the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Annual Phoenix Awards at the Washington Convention Center on Sept. 24, 2011. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images)
“He’s smart, that’s why I voted for him,’’ Johnson says. ‘’So why wouldn’t I listen to what he has to say and listen to all of it. The right may not do that, but I do.’’
For years, reports have shown a great divide in the opinions of African Americans on efforts to legalize gay marriage, versus those of other races. A 2008 Pew poll showed that nearly 67 percent of blacks were not in favor of same-sex couples marrying. Those high numbers, especially when compared to the attitudes of other races, helped feed the belief that feelings of homophobia are much more of a problem in African-American communities, where many of the country’s top black ministers use their pulpits to rail against the “homosexual lifestyle.”
Cardinal Timothy Dolan said he found President Obama’s announcement that he supports legalizing same-sex marriage “deeply saddening.” But some Catholic theologians and writers say he doesn’t speak for them.
Fresh from their scrape with the White House over its birth-control mandate, Catholic bishops may represent the most unified resistance to any attempt by President Obama to turn his personal support for same-sex marriage into a policy position. Yet while many non-Catholic Americans may take the political position put forward by the bishops as the final word in American Catholic life, progressive Catholic thinkers and theologians say it is time for the church to step back from political arguments about same-sex marriage, and reconsider its own position.
Among the theologians who say the bishops are in the wrong is Paul Lakeland, a professor of religion and director of the Center for Catholic Studies at Fairfield University, a Catholic university in Connecticut. “That’s not really an argument that has a theological justification,” Lakeland said of the church’s opposition to same-sex civil marriages. “It’s an argument that’s based more on fear or repugnance.”
“There is a lot more to be said about these issues than one stream of words from the hierarchy,” Lakeland said.
While Catholic bishops were quick to rise in unified opposition earlier this year after President Obama announced a health-care mandate that would require all employers to ensure that their health insurance plans covered birth control, they have not yet mounted a similar campaign in light of Obama’s announcement on Wednesday that he supports same-sex marriage.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, did release a statement on Wednesday saying he found Obama’s decision “deeply saddening.” Dolan went on to say that, “We cannot be silent in the face of words or actions that would undermine the institution of marriage, the very cornerstone of our society.”
The USCCB’s most recent public pronouncement on the issue of same-sex marriage was a statement released Thursday in which the bishops expressed their approval of a vote in North Carolina in which citizens passed a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman. “This is not a partisan issue, but a matter of justice, fairness, and equality for the law to uphold every child’s basic right to be welcomed and raised by his or her mother and father together,” Bishop Salvatore Cordileone, chairman of the USCCB’s subcommittee on the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, said in the statement.
FILE PHOTO: Daniel Maguire, a Roman Catholic theologian, July 23, 2001 (Morry Gash / AP Photos)
The USCCB did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
The U.S. president’s shift on same-sex marriage drew out culture warriors across the Continent, where governments are in flux—and voters are divided.
There’s nothing like a debate on same-sex marriage to bring out the homophobia in a society.
Demonstrators make their way past the Colosseum during the Europride gay rights march in Rome, June 11, 2011. (Andrew Medichini / AP Photo )
Or at least that’s the way it is being played in Italy, where news of U.S. President Barack Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage was met with a somewhat surprisingly heated debate. State-run RAI television and radio dedicated much of Thursday’s programming to pitting pundits on both sides of matrimonial aisle against each other. In what often amounted to an embarrassing tirade against the “evils of homosexuality,” ultraconservative politicians attacked gay-rights activists with cruel insults. The activists, who pleaded that they only want to be treated as equals to heterosexual couples in the eye of the law, were left dumbfounded. “I just wanted to be able to be considered ‘next of kin’ to my companion if something would ever go wrong,” explained Caterina De Simone, a gay-rights activist and journalist. “I just want the same benefits as heterosexual couples. I’m not asking for you to condone us, just don’t punish us.”
“Your way is wrong,” charged Paola Binetti, who last year famously claimed that pedophilia and homosexuality were clinically connected. “Find some other way to say you are committed, but do not dirty the word ‘marriage.’”
“Do you realize how ridiculous you sound?” she yelled at De Simone. “I’m in a committed, stable relationship. Are you?”
Binetti’s sentiments were echoed throughout Italy’s political class. Because Italians are awaiting word of when the country will have elections to possibly replace the technocratic government led by Mario Monti, most politicians are in a sort of campaign limbo, where every opinion counts.
Even Italy’s somewhat-liberal left departed from their European counterparts’ hearty support of Obama’s statement. France just a few days ago elected a new president, the Socialist François Hollande, who had pledged to pass legislation making same-sex marriage and adoptions legal by the spring of 2013. France already allows same-sex civil unions, but a poll last year showed that a considerable majority of French people surveyed (63 percent) was in favor of same-sex marriage, with 58 percent in favor of adoption rights for gay couples.
But Italian center-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani said he would consider supporting some sort of definition that recognized the rights of same-sex couples, “as long as you don’t call it marriage.” Even Italy’s most well-known gay parliamentarian, Nichi Vendola, was cautious. “I personally support gay marriage,” he said. “But we as a party on the left don’t condone it.”
Before president revealed gay-marriage stance.
It’s not like the vice president had never spoken out of turn before. But Joe Biden still apologized to President Obama for his candid statements about his comfort level with gay marriage three days before the president made his own statement saying he supported it. The apology took place in the Oval Office, moments before the president voiced his views on ABC. Obama said Biden was, “a little bit over his skis,” but made the comments “out of generosity of spirit.”
After he came out in support of same-sex marriage, Obama’s campaign saw a fundraising windfall. Daniel Stone reports on a new ad trying to pin Romney on the wrong side of the issue—and history.
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.
A new ad produced by Obama’s Chicago headquarters doesn’t just ding Romney for being at odds with Obama on a fervent social issue. It actively plays up the backward angle. (AP Photo ; Getty Images)
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.
Was Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage an audacious show of courage—or a ‘profile in Jell-O'? The Daily Beast rounds up the most provocative opinion pieces on the political fallout.
Obama Lets Go of Fear
Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Beast
While many are quick to point out what is wrong about or missing from President Obama’s announcement, The Daily Beast’s Andrew Sullivan is happy to take the president’s words for what they are. “The interview changes no laws; it has no tangible effect. But it reaffirms for me the integrity of this man we are immensely lucky to have in the White House,” he writes. “Today Obama did more than make a logical step. He let go of fear. He is clearly prepared to let the political chips fall as they may. That’s why we elected him.” Sullivan thinks of all those who will be affected—even if only emotionally—by Obama’s words, and those, like Maurice Sendak, who did not live to “know they have their president on their side.” He believes expressing this position can only help Obama politically: “He will be looking to the future generations as his opponent panders to the past.”
Same-sex marriage demonstrators stand with signs supporting Barack Obama outside a fundraising event for the president on May 10, 2012 in Seattle, Washington. (Elaine Thompson / AP Photo)
The Devolution of Marriage
The Editors, National Review
The editors at the National Review don’t think President Obama was being honest. “And his dishonesty,” they write, “is not merely a matter of pretending that he has truly changed his mind about marriage, rather than about the politics of marriage,” they write. The editors argue that the Defense of Marriage Act was actually designed to reinforce states’ marriage laws, and by opposing DOMA, Obama is actually contradicting his claim that he wants states to be able to determine their own marriage policies. In reality, they insist, President Obama would prefer all states be required to allow gay marriage. They also reiterate their belief that marriage laws are needed to promote relationships between people who can procreate. “We’ve already gone too far, in both law and culture, in weakening the link between marriage and procreation. To break it altogether would make the institution of marriage unintelligible,” they write. “We will not make our society more civilized by detaching one of our central institutions from its civilizing task.”
The Gay-Rights Cause Obama Can Actually Do Something About
Ben Adler, Reuters
OK, but there’s more work to be done, Adler argues at Reuters. The president, he writes, should focus his energy on eradicating employment discrimination for gays and lesbians—which is legal in 29 states, not to mention the five additional states in which discrimination against transgender people is also legal. Adler urges Obama to push for the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. While gay marriage could potentially hurt Obama’s reelection efforts, “ENDA, by contrast, is a political winner. Protecting gays from discrimination in the workplace is an easier sell because social moderates can more readily see how sexual orientation has no bearing on one’s ability to do his or her job.” Those seriously opposed to ENDA probably wouldn’t consider voting for Obama regardless, and Romney is being pressured by social conservatives to oppose it—making it in Obama’s interest to corner Romney by supporting it. “If the activist and media pressure that was brought to bear on Obama over gay marriage is applied to Congress over ENDA, the measure could conceivably pass and extend civil-rights law to everyone,” he writes. “That would be a highly evolved outcome.”
Obama ‘Evolves’ on Marriage
Glenn Greenwald, Salon
Much time has been spent trying to decipher what drove President Obama to come out in favor of gay marriage. Did he cave under the pressure of activists? Did he have no choice but to agree with Joe Biden’s comments from over the weekend? Is he simply pandering to gay-rights supporters? Salon’s Glenn Greenwald says none of this matters. “When it comes to assessing a politician, what matters, at least to me, are actions, not motives,” he writes. “If they do the wrong thing, they should be criticized regardless of motive; conversely, if they do the right thing, they should be credited.” Still, he notes, “none of this mitigates the many horrendous things Obama has done in other areas, nor does it mean he deserves re-election. But just as it’s intellectually corrupted to refuse to criticize him when he deserves it, the same is true of refusing to credit him when he deserves it. Today, he deserves credit.”
Why Now, Mr. President?
Michael Medved, The Daily Beast
By endorsing gay marriage Wednesday, President Obama broke “the first rule of all savvy political strategists: do everything you can to unite your core supporters, while splitting the opposition,” writes The Daily Beast’s Michael Medved. “The administration’s new backing for the redefinition of marriage accomplishes exactly the opposite purpose: uniting Republicans and badly dividing the president’s own base.” Medved argues that Obama’s announcement yesterday was motivated by “a desperate desire to distract attention from economic issues in order to avoid the imminent collapse of his campaign.” Rather than building “a Profile in Courage,” Medved insists that Obama’s new position “suggests a profile in Jell-O.”
Why endorse gay marriage now? Because the flailing president wants to distract attention from his clumsy economic policies by dragging us into a toxic culture war, writes Michael Medved.
It’s easy to explain the philosophical basis for Barack Obama’s decision to endorse same-sex marriage But it’s tough to understand the political calculation behind his timing.
Why would the beleaguered president wait till the last seven months of his term of office, and the midst of a difficult campaign for re-election, to reverse his position on a deeply polarizing social issue which, at best, divides the public down the middle?
President Barack Obama is seen on a monitor during an interview in which he stated his support for gay marriage in the White House briefing room on May 9, 2012 in Washington D.C. (Carolyn Kaster / AP Photo)
The president’s surprise announcement violates the first rule of all savvy political strategists: do everything you can to unite your core supporters, while splitting the opposition. The administration’s new backing for the redefinition of marriage accomplishes exactly the opposite purpose: uniting Republicans and badly dividing the president’s own base. The results this week in North Carolina, along with exit polls in all states which previously voted on same-sex marriage, indicate that even many of Obama’s faithful fans in the black and Latino communities disagree with him on this issue.
Who, exactly, are the target voters who will respond to the president’s sudden reversal on gay marriage by suddenly switching their allegiance from Romney to Obama? It’s safe to assume that anyone who strongly supported the redefinition of marriage had already aligned with the Democrats, given the unequivocal position of the GOP in defense of traditional male-female matrimony. At the same time, some critics of same-sex marriage who felt reassured by the president’s eight years of consistent, outspoken opposition to radical change may now feel disillusioned, even betrayed. In North Carolina, a crucial swing state the president carried eight years ago and where he chose to site this year’s Democratic National Convention, 61 percent of all voters in Tuesday’s high turnout election cast their ballots for a constitutional amendment affirming traditional parameters for government-sponsored matrimony. Sensing disaster, the Obama campaign had canceled plans for an appearance in the state on Election Day, and within 12 hours of learning the final results he gave an interview to ABC implicitly decrying the landslide verdict.
Had the vote gone the other way, the president might have justified his decision to reconsider on same-sex marriage by noting that sentiment even in the faith-and-family South had shifted in a new direction, and that all Americans seemed ready to embrace a fresh attitude. But the outcome in the Tar Heel State wasn’t even close, so the president’s timing seemed deliberately calculated to show contempt for the very message the voters attempted to send.
Why would he go out of his way to court new controversy when nearly all gay-rights advocates had already resigned themselves to the idea that he’d wait to complete his “evolution” on the issue until he had been safely re-elected and begun his second term?
Some observers see the new position as a desperate attempt to bring new energy and oomph to the campaign’s lagging fundraising, and sure enough the president sent out a melodramatic money-begging message (“If you agree, you can stand up with me here”) the same day he made the big announcement. But in a race where each side will raise and spend in excess of a billion dollars, it’s hard to imagine that a few extra million from gay activists (or even hundreds of millions) would alter the outcome decisively.
With early gay marriage announcement.
Looks like there’s no hard feelings between POTUS and VPOTUS. President Obama said Thursday that he was not upset that Vice President Biden’s “jumped the gun” by endorsing gay marriage before Obama had planned. “He probably got out a little bit over his skis, but out of generosity of spirit,” Obama said. Obama said “sure” he would have liked to have made the announcement on his own terms, but “all’s well that ends well.” Obama said his hesitation on the issue was because he didn’t want to “nationalize the issue,” and he admitted that supporting gay marriage could be risky for the 2012 election.
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.
Standing in front of the United States Constitution, President Barack Obama delivers an address at the National Archives in Washington. (Charles Dharapak / AP Photo )
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 president’s decision to endorse gay marriage comes with all kinds of political risks. But it might also give him an edge in his contest with Mitt Romney in the fall.
The ways in which Barack Obama’s historic same-sex marriage announcement might be bad politics are obvious, and I’ve discussed them. This could bring right-wing religious voters out to the polls in numbers far greater than Mitt Romney could ever have had reason to expect. But since the announcement, I’ve been trying to think about how it might be good politics. The obvious things—energizing the youth vote and the liberal- donor base—are true enough. But there may be more. Obama and Romney will now inevitably have a running and fundamental debate that won’t be about just gay marriage, but will be about fairness and justice and which American history we’re building on as we go forward. That’s a debate that Obama—with some help from Romney—can win.
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Let’s examine Romney’s reaction on Wednesday. He met the press a couple of times, first in Colorado, and then in Oklahoma. In Colorado he said that of course he was against same-sex marriage, but threw in that he also opposed civil unions: “If a civil union is identical to marriage other than in the name, I don’t support that.” He said he supported things like hospital-visitation rights and “benefits that might accrue to state workers”—presumably, putting partners on health plans and so forth. But if a civil union would allow couples to file taxes jointly, say, or engage in other activities that would force the law to recognize their couple-ness, he would oppose that.
Obama, of course, has supported the kinds of civil unions Romney said he’s against, and now he’s said he backs same-sex marriage on a personal level but would leave the states the power to make their own determinations. So we have one candidate who says no and no (marriage and unions), and one candidate who says yes and yes, fighting for votes in a country that thinks yes emphatically on civil unions and yes very narrowly on marriage. Put it on a grid. Obama is closer to, or indeed has, the majority position on both questions.
The single most important position here is not Obama’s, but Romney’s: specifically, his continuing opposition to civil unions. That one is mystifying to me. In many polls, something north of 60 percent of Americans back civil unions. George W. Bush backed civil unions in 2004. It’s yesterday’s news. Outside of right-wing circles, it’s not controversial. Yet Romney happily slid his leg into this manacle, slammed down the padlock, and threw the key into the river. He’s stuck with this one.
He’s stuck with another one, too. He signed a pledge promising that he would pursue a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage nationally. Now it may be that he “doesn’t really believe that.” That doesn’t matter. He signed it. He’s stuck with that one, too.
So this is what Obama needs to do: When the subject turns to this issue, he needs to make sure that Americans know that Romney opposes even civil unions, and that he would seek to outlaw gay marriage across the country, and he needs to make Romney defend those positions. Obama, in contrast, can say: “Hey, look, I took a personal position. I’m not trying to make Alabama or Oklahoma do anything they don’t want to do. But you, sir, would take already-won rights away from gay couples whose unions are now recognized in a number of states.” And then he drops this bomb: “My position is no different from Dick Cheney’s. Is he outside the mainstream?” And then, after that, he can say something like: “Governor, your own father bravely broke from his party on a great civil-rights matter. Why can’t you?”
It’s a simple rule of politics: When you’ve done something controversial, don’t play defense with it, play offense. If Obama does that, he can expose the extremism of Romney’s positions. He’ll give substance to the “forward” idea. He’ll look like, and will in fact be, a politician who has taken a gutsy stand. He’ll be able to say, entirely justifiably, that he is operating in the country’s best traditions. Romney is acting in accord with our worst ones. And if Romney changes his stance on civil unions, then he’s a flip-flopper, again, and looks incredibly weak next to the guy who took an actual stand.
The president said in 1996 that he would support legalizing gay marriage, and 16 years later became the first Oval Office holder to do just that, writes Michelle Goldberg.
In a major policy shift Wednesday, President Obama told ABC News’s Robin Roberts that ‘same-sex couples should be able to get married.’ The move marked the first time a sitting president has thrown his support behind gay marriage and the end of Obama's self-described 'evolution' on the issue.
As the debate over gay marriage rages, what marriages and weddings really mean. By David Jefferson.
As same-sex couples march down the aisle in N.Y., Andrew Sullivan reflects on his own pursuit of happiness.
From Canada to Portugal, 10 countries that allow same-sex couples to legally tie the knot.