Thursday, May 10, 2012 at 5:54 AM
All of Washington waited with bated breath after word began to circulate around noon today that President Obama would soon be “making news” on same-sex marriage in a hastily arranged interview with ABC News.
I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.
Once he completed that very long, evolving sentence, one could hear the Hallelujahs all over city: with progressives hailing his statement as an historic step in favor of civil rights for gays and lesbians, and conservatives hailing it as a godsend that will galvanize social conservatives who were heretofore expressing merely lukewarm support for Mitt Romney. Because, despite his notorious flip-flopping on issues, at least Romney opposes gay marriage with the “conviction” of a born-again Christian.
Except that I’m an avowed progressive and I heard little to cheer about. Instead, I was a little bothered when Obama stressed the words “for me personally.” And this feeling was only compounded later when I read the following in ABC’s online report on the interview:
The president stressed that this is a personal position, and that he still supports the concept of states deciding the issue on their own.
I am extremely bothered because just imagine how Blacks would have felt if JFK had said, “for me personally, Blacks should have full civil rights, but the (Southern) states [with their laws of racist interposition and nullification] should decide the issue on their own.”
Frankly, Obama’s statement reeks of cynicism. After all, unlike JFK, he is a Constitutional professor who knows that the Supreme Court has already ruled that the right to choose whom to love is a fundamental right with which no state can interfere. (See Loving v. Virginia – in which the Court ruled way back in 1967 that it is a fundamental right to marry inter-racially.) Which rather undermines the assertion that his statement constitutes a bold historic step. Not to mention that former Republican VP Dick Cheney took this political step years ago….
What’s more, apropos of interposition and nullification, Obama surely knows that more than 30 states have already passed laws banning this civil right for gays. Hell, North Carolina did so just yesterday.
This is why I profoundly regret that he did not show a real profile in courage by declaring his intent to champion federal legislation to guarantee gays and lesbians the fundamental right to marry – just as JFK (and LBJ) did to guarantee Blacks the fundamental right to vote.
No doubt when other progressives, including gays and lesbians, get over the understandable euphoria Obama’s carefully calibrated words inspired, they will realize that his statement was more about electoral politics than civil rights. In this regard, he clearly stated his position in a way to avoid alienating conservative (Reagan) Democrats for whom even homosexual acts are an abomination. Which is why they think sanctioning such acts in holy matrimony amount to defiling the sanctity of marriage.
On the other hand, some will argue that this statement will cost him votes among Black Evangelicals and Hispanic Catholics. Not least because of the way they reacted to the simple ordination of America’s first gay bishop:
The dark little secret is that far too many Blacks (and Hispanics) are every bit as homophobic as right-wing Christian zealots. They demonstrated this in brazen fashion four years ago by voicing moral opposition to the ordination of gay bishop Gene Robinson…
What is ironic and, frankly, disappointing about this row [over the ordination of gay bishops] is that Blacks are using the same perverse religious and cultural rationalizations to discriminate against gays that Whites used to rationalize their discrimination against Blacks not so long ago.
(“California … Upholds Ban on Same-Sex Marriage,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 28, 2009)
But, with good reason, Obama takes for granted that Blacks and Hispanics will vote for him no matter what position he takes on issues that matter to them (like inner-city crime, high unemployment, chronic poverty, and illegal immigration). So the only reason he could have for half-stepping on this issue is to curry favor with White Democratic and Independent voters….
Like Obama, I have many gay and lesbian friends. But here is why, unlike him, my support for same-sex marriage is Constitutional, not conditional:
I believe it is a self-evident truth that not allowing gays to marry is an even greater violation of the fundamental civil/equal rights all citizens should enjoy than not allowing Blacks to vote.
(“Same-Sex Marriage Now Legal in New York,” The iPINIONS Journal, June 27, 2011)
This commentary was originally published yesterday, May 9, at 3:56 pm