When President Obama dropped his gay-marriage bomb Wednesday, the religious right and gay-marriage supporters found themselves in the unusual position of having the same reaction: finally, Obama is admitting what he’s been signaling he believes all along. But while supporters greeted the news with celebratory tears, opponents mocked the announcement with a resounding “duh.”
The right’s notion that a presidential endorsement of gay marriage would mean little more than stating the obvious had been circling since the weekend, when Vice President Joe Biden told Meet the Press that he was "comfortable" with same-sex unions. Just hours before Obama’s announcement, conservative blogger Rod Dreher wrote, “Of course Obama is officially against same-sex marriage, but nobody with a lick of sense believes that this is true.” On Tuesday, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, a conservative Catholic who opposes gay marriage, expressed a similar sentiment: “It seems a little strange that the president is so unwilling to acknowledge what every non-delusional Washington observer believes to be the case—that like his voluble vice-president, he is part of the emerging pro-same-sex-marriage majority, rather than the opponent that he still officially pretends to be.”
With Obama’s nod of support, the stance quickly dominated conservative conversation.
“The President’s announcement today that he supports legalizing same-sex marriage finally brings his words in sync with his actions,” said Family Research Council president Tony Perkins. “From opposing state marriage amendments to refusing to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act to giving taxpayer funded marriage benefits to same-sex couples, the President has undermined the spirit if not the letter of the law.”
Rick Santorum also used the opportunity to remind his supporters that the president’s announcement was anticlimactic. “The announcement today by President Obama should come as no surprise to the American public,” Santorum said in a statement. “President Obama has consistently fought against protecting the institution of marriage from radical social engineering at both the state and federal level.”
And yet, despite downplaying the momentousness of Obama’s turn, political leaders on the religious right seemed to salivate at the opportunity to call him an explicit gay-marriage supporter. Across media, they almost unanimously predicted that marriage will become a hot-button issue in the presidential campaign, and one that they can use to their advantage.
Maggie Gallagher, the president of the National Organization for Marriage and one of the most outspoken foes of gay marriage, told the evangelical World magazine: “Politically, we welcome this. We think it’s a huge mistake.” Meanwhile, the conservative activist Ralph Reed called it “an unanticipated gift to the Romney campaign.”
“President Obama just torpedoed his chance to win in November,” Bryan Fischer, the firebrand spokesman for the American Family Association, told The Daily Beast. “This was a move born of desperation, a Hail Mary pass. The results in North Carolina make it abundantly clear that the American people are not with him on gay marriage. This is a golden opportunity for Mitt Romney. If he will send a strong, consistent and unambiguous message in support of natural marriage he will win the election in a landslide.”
Conservative leaders predicted that Romney’s Republican base and voters in swing states would see Obama’s new position as an attack on their views, and react by turning out to oppose him. “Considering that ten of the sixteen battleground states have marriage amendments that could be overturned by the President’s new policy position on marriage, today’s announcement almost ensures that marriage will again be a major issue in the presidential election,” Perkins said.
Fischer summed up the religious right’s reaction on Twitter: “Romney for natural marriage, Obama for unnatural marriage. For social conservatives, choice is now quite clear.”