POTUS: I support Marriage Equality…
Today President Barack Obama came out in support of marriage equality completing a years long evolution on the subject. The language and couching of the president’s position all along led many gay rights activists to conclude that the president already supported same-sex marriage and indeed an ancient questionnaire the President filled out when running for the Illinois State Senate suggested the same. The decision to stay in the closet, however, seemed to be a political calculation on the part of the President and his aides. With a same-sex marriage plank being proposed to the Democratic platform for the convention in Charlotte, where the state of North Carolina just doubly banned marriage equality, the pressure and politics of supporting equality simply outweighed the consequences.
Much of this started on Sunday when Vice-President Joe Biden said he was “absolutely comfortable” with homosexual couples getting married. This touched off a torrent of backpedaling by the White House read by many commentators that the White House interpreted this as a gaffe by Biden, which is prone to do. Then Education Secretary Arne Duncan, asked about same-sex marriage on MSNBC, said he too supported marriage equality. Given the complexity of the Executive Branch’s media operation it seemed simply impossible for all secretaries on TV to not have been briefed on the subject. That led us to conclude, rightly we believe, that Biden’s comments, though still somewhat extemporaneous, were part of a broader message testing by the White House.
Gay activists had been pressing the President for some time on this issue, despite Obama being by far the most progressive president on gay rights in our nation’s history. Indeed, the president is to appear at a Fundraiser held by many of Hollywood’s gay rights activists and his continued hedging on the issue, Joe Biden aside, maintained a noisy awkwardness between the president and his supporters in the gay community.
Given the apparently accurate belief that Obama supported marriage equality all along, it is understandable why so many in the gay community and their friends and family demanded he “finish evolving.” However, it always felt to us to be a step that bought the president little in exchange for a series of annoyances. Still, given the increased pressure from the gay community, rapidly shifting attitudes among the population, North Carolina’s ugly acceptance of a patently and misleadingly homophobic constitutional ban on gay unions of any kind and the true place of the president’s sympathies, it is only right that Obama came out today in favor of marriage equality.
This blog at one time opposed marriage equality on fundamentally etymological grounds. We felt then that marriage’s religious connotations and thus its heterosexual mandate could not be fully divorced from its legal dimensions as long as the term marriage was used by civil authorities in this country. However, a spat of young gay people committing suicide a few years ago made our position, in our eyes, untenable. Something like language is not so high a calling that it comes as the expense of human lives. In our estimate, if permitting in our civil, secular laws, the recognition of two people who love each other, regardless of their genders, can take a step to encourage young people who are gay or perceived to be gay to feel more accepted in our society, then to hell with the language. Our moral imperative and obligation to look out for human lives can and must take precedence.
It is important to note that the president’s coming out in favor of marriage equality is, as it has always been, a symbolic move on his part. It does not undo the patently discriminatory bans in states like North Carolina or Wisconsin, nor win the battles to fight off a ban in the Minnesota constitution or reinstate gay marriage in Maine. These are battles that must be fought door to door, person to person, friend to friend, family member to family member. The arc of history is already bending in that direction and since it seems all but certain that at least one major party in this country will follow that path (and indeed the Republican may join them one day) opposition to same-sex marriage may one day seem as peculiar as laws banning interracial marriage or women’s right to vote. On that day, America will show that one of its key aspirations, a broadening of freedom and participation for all of its citizens, remains alive and thriving.