There’s something President Obama isn’t being honest about. I’m not talking about being a secret Muslim, or faking his birth certificate, or having a secret, socialist, radical agenda that’s about to be unleashed any day now. I’m talking about his position on same-sex marriage.
The President’s position on the issue, both earlier in his career and during his 2008 campaign, was that he was supportive of most LGBT issues, while stopping short of endorsing marriage. Since becoming president, Obama has repeatedly stated that his stance on the issue is “evolving.”
In the meantime, he has used the power of the office to take the pro-equality side on various fronts, opposing anti-gay marriage amendments and choosing to no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court. This is why it’s wrong to say, as many have, that Obama “has the same position” on same-sex marriage as George W. Bush, or the current GOP candidates.
Just about everyone who follows politics, regardless of their views, has reached the same conclusion: The President is now a supporter of marriage equality, but for reasons of political expediency, has not yet (pardon the pun) come out as one. But someday he will, either during a theoretical second term or after leaving office.
If the President has in fact completed his evolution on the issue, should he announce it prior to the election? If he did that, it would be an awesome moment, and I’d probably stand and applaud, which isn’t something I often do while observing politics these days. But it may not be worth the risk, simply because doing so wouldn’t cause gay marriage to be legal.
The President doesn’t have the power to will nationwide marriage equality into being, or to declare it via executive order. It’s not going to be passed legislatively through a Republican Congress, and even if it did there’d likely be a Supreme Court challenge. The much more likely scenario is that Obama keeps appointing liberal judges, and at some point in his second term (or after), they declare anti-gay marriage laws unconstitutional.
That we’re having this debate, at this time, marks the startling change that has taken place in America on this issue.
Same-sex marriage wasn’t even on the radar of national politics 15 or even 10 years ago. As recently as the 2008 campaign, none of the major Democratic candidates were supporters. Now, gay marriage is legal in six states and the District of Columbia. And clearly, it has gained further support as gay marriage has become a reality and more and more people have seen that, no, the sky has not fallen and it’s not the end of the traditional family.
Two of the likely Democratic candidates in 2016, Martin O’Malley of Maryland and Andrew Cuomo of New York, not only support same-sex marriage but signed it into law in their states. Barack Obama is almost certainly the last Democratic president—as well as the last Democratic presidential nominee—not to fully back marriage equality.
Sure, the fight is far from over. In the state where I grew up, Minnesota, there’s a ballot initiative this November on a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. But since such marriage is already banned by law in the state, if the initiative passes it will be illegal, and if it fails, it will also be illegal. Meanwhile, a memo recently leaked from the noxious National Organization for Marriage, in which its leaders suggested that gay-marriage opponents drive a wedge between gay and black voters, shows how little they regard either group.
On this issue, the simple march of time is a much greater friend to the cause than the endorsement of any particular political figure. Last year, for the first time, the Gallup poll found a majority of Americans favored the legalization of same-sex marriage. That number was 27 percent in 1996, 37 percent in 2005 and 40 percent in 2008.
And besides, recent history has shown that, great as his powers of persuasion are, President Obama taking a stand on an issue has a tendency to inflame the opposition of those who hate him. His considered, eloquent words to Trayvon Martin’s family, after all, were somehow twisted into “Obama is leading a racist lynch mob.” How would opponents react to the president endorsing gay marriage? “The Obama violent assault on the traditional family”?
The president is fond of using the Martin Luther King quote “the arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.” In the case of marriage equality, that arc has been bending for a long time—and will likely continue bending, no matter what the president does.