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Update: President Obama has indeed come out of the closet, telling ABC news that he does, in fact, support the right for same-sex couples to get married. Read our report, with reactions from New Yorkers, here.
It’s been a rough few days for President Obama on the gay marriage question, although he really has no one to blame but himself.
President Obama has been “evolving” on the issue for some time now, reportedly endorsing full same-sex marriage equality in 1996, before rolling back his stance to a wishy-washy, “everything but the word marriage” position which advocated for full equal civil rights through civil unions or domestic partnerships. (Still, he didn’t put a lot of effort into this.)
The problem is, anything short of the word “marriage” (or the words “civil marriage” to be more precise and less likely to wade into the tricky arena of separating church and state) lacks full equal rights under the law.
Obama has been trying to have it both ways and to avoid letting same-sex marriage become a wedge issue that could work against him in 2012 the same way it allegedly dogged John Kerry in 2004.
But the American electorate and its class of politicians are very different now. A majority of Americans now support marriage equality. Indeed the Republican political class is different; even Ken Melhman, the architect behind using gay marriage as a wedge issue for George W. Bush, came out as a gay man and was instrumental in winning over the Republican votes in the New York Senate last summer when our state’s Marriage Equality Act passed.
Obama’s refusal to come out fully for equality was all the more bizarre, ironically, due to his well deserved record of doing more for LGBT rights than the 43 presidents preceding him combined. In passing hate crimes legislation and repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the expectations for this son of interracial parents (whose marriage would have been illegal in many states when they wed) only grew.
Skip forward to the beginning of this week. President Obama tried to avoid North Carolina’s Amendment 1, taking a similar stance to how he tepidly, vaguely (and largely, ineffectively and uselessly) said he didn’t approve of California’s Prop 8 while running for president in 2008. Prop 8 passed, and Amendment 1 was heading to pass, (although it would create a state of inequality for North Carolinian same-sex families far more dangerous than even Prop 8 would create, wiping out civil unions and domestic partnerships, too).
California was not a swing state, so Obama could have done more to fight Prop 8. North Carolina is a swing state, and so Obama was hoping the gays would give him some room to dodge.
But his Vice President made that pretty frickin’ hard for him on Sunday, when he came out for marriage equality (joining HUD Secretary Shaun Donovon and Education Secretary Arne Duncan in jumping out of the Cabinet equality closet). And his trip to our state this week, taking a tour with the immensely popular, 73% approved, Marriage Equality Act signing Governor Cuomo made his waiting look absurd.
Also, Obama’s also holding his Democratice National Convention in North Carolina. And though Obama’s tried to take a “states rights” stance on marriage (focusing most attacks on anti-equality measures like DOMA, which his DOJ says is unconstitutional but justifying these attacks as being within the federal, not state, purview), there is much he could do with the bully pulpit.
If you, like us and many political junkies right now, are reading Robert Caro’s latest Lyndon Johnson tome The Passage of Power, take a moment to think about this: LBJ held his his DNC in 1964, in the height of the fights for black civil rights, in Atlantic City.
LBJ did not hold it in a Southern state. His convention halls were not ones where blacks could not enter, or eat with white people, or get lynched for trying to vote.
President Obama says he is for equal civil rights for LGBT Americans…but he’s holding his DNC in a city where LGBT Americans don’t have equal rights. In fact, he’s holding it in a state where discrimination has recently (during his tenture, with little opposition from him) been enshrined in the state’s constitution, against some of his most ardent supporters. It’s not just that he’d rather there be no same-sex marriage plank; his same-sex supporters will have to travel to a state where, unlike in New York, they are second -class citizens under state law if they want to go to the convention.
Will he let this go on? Will he fail to fight with the “fierce urgency of now” for equal rights for all Americans, gay and straight?
According to a lot twitter chatter, ABC will let us know shortly.