The President and Gay Marriage

The commentators are in full flower.  “This is a great move.”  “It is risky.”  “This could cost him the election.”  What does it really mean?  We won’t know until the election in November, but we can try to bring some clarity to some of the noise.

Photograph by Pete Souza

We know that many of those who oppose gay marriage for religious or other grounds will never be convinced, but I expect that some will come around to saying something like “I personally don’t support gay marriage, but as a matter of rights, people should be able to choose.”  Kind of like what many Democrats have said about abortion.  But the majority of the opposition will remain opposed. 

Some will say this was a cynical move on the part of the President to solidify his gay and lesbian supporter.  I don’t think so.  Richard Socarides wrote in the New Yorker

For a long time, Democrats have taken the gay vote for granted. Political consultants tell Democrats that gay and lesbian voters have nowhere else to go, and thus, in effect, can be counted on, so long as politicians pay lip service to the issue. But that is old thinking, out of touch with the new reality of the gay-rights movement. While I know that most gays and lesbians would have supported President Obama, both with their votes and with their financial contributions, no matter what he did on the issue of marriage equality, we were also not going to take “no” for an answer on the most important civil-rights issue of our day. That meant holding the President’s feet to the fire—first on the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and then on marriage equality.

What we do know is that this was an act of courage and leadership.  President Obama may be part of the tide rising toward marriage equality, but he is part of the leading edge.  Andrew Sullivan

I do not know how orchestrated this was; and I do not know how calculated it is. What I know is that, absorbing the news, I was uncharacteristically at a loss for words for a while, didn’t know what to write, and, like many Dish readers, there are tears in my eyes.

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. Obama’s journey on this has been like that of many other Americans, when faced with the actual reality of gay lives and gay relationships. Yes, there was politics in a lot of it. But not all of it. I was in the room long before the 2008 primaries when Obama spoke to the mother of a gay son about marriage equality. He said he was for equality, but not marriage. Five years later, he sees – as we all see – that you cannot have one without the other. But even then, you knew he saw that woman’s son as his equal as a citizen. It was a moment – way off the record at the time – that clinched my support for him.

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. That’s the change we believed in. The contrast with a candidate who wants to abolish all rights for gay couples by amending the federal constitution, and who has donated to organizations that seek to “cure” gays, who bowed to pressure from bigots who demanded the head of a spokesman on foreign policy solely because he was gay: how much starker can it get?

Both Sullivan and Socarides do believe that in the long run, this will not hurt Obama’s reelection chances.  Sullivan first

My view politically is that this will help Obama. He will be looking to the future generations as his opponent panders to the past. The clearer the choice this year the likelier his victory. And after the darkness of last night, this feels like a widening dawn.

Then Socarides

This is not to take anything away from the courage exhibited by President Obama today. His willingness to share with the American people his thinking, indeed, his struggle around this issue will help build a national consensus. Everyone is entitled to a journey on this issue.

I suspect that at the end of this national conversation the result will be a good one, and the process, including Obama’s painstakingly slow evolution, will have been a positive experience for the country. Hopefully, it will lead us in a positive direction—which, after all, is the job of a President.

This is a conversation that is just beginning and we owe the President a conversation that is at once passionate and reasoned.  Let me end with this from him

This is something that, you know, we’ve talked about over the years and she, you know, she feels the same way, she feels the same way that I do. And that is that, in the end the values that I care most deeply about and she cares most deeply about is how we treat other people and, you know, I, you know, we are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated. And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids and that’s what motivates me as president, and I figure the most consistent I can be in being true to those precepts, the better I’ll be as a dad and a husband and, hopefully, the better I’ll be as president.

 

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