By John Stang
Like most Americans, I was pretty stunned to learn that President Obama endorsed same-sex marriage in an interview with ABC News. The timing is surprising, his stance is not. No one doubted Obama would end up supporting gay marriage (I always thought it was just a politically calculated move to not support it) or that he would evolve the other way against gay marriage. Why the hold-up? Richard Socarides at the New Yorker explains:
When I worked in the Clinton White House, in 1996, it was clear that President Clinton did not want to sign the Republican-inspired Defense of Marriage Act, which bans federal recognition of same-sex marriages, even ones recognized by states. He ended up signing it anyway, because it was the summer before his reëlection bid and his political advisers told him it would be too much of a risk to veto the bill: he would be painted as a friend of gays and lesbians in negative campaign advertising. Sixteen years later, that was the same argument President Obama’s advisers were no doubt making to him. But it is a testament to how far America has come, and to the man that Obama has become as President, that he was willing today to reject that advice and do the right thing for the country and its citizens.
Nationally, over 50% of Americans support gay marriage:
I think Obama’s support for this issue is crucial for a few reasons. First, clearly, Americans have “evolved” on this issue over the last ten years and are now starting to accept it. While ballot initatives have not been the most successful thing for gay activists, the courts are starting to overturn those initiatives pretty quickly. Second, whether or not President Obama comes out the winner in November, being the first sitting president to endorse gay marriage is historic. Today, no one can take that away from him. Third, I think this can be a big legislative boom to reignite this issue. If American public opinion is turning on this and the economy is weak, this could be the distracting wedge issue to save the White House for the president. As Greg Sargent at the Washington Post writes:
I don’t know how this will play among culturally conservative swing voters who are supposedly going to be alienated by it, but I’ll tell you this much: I’m looking forward to finding out. I suspect that when Obama discovers that the political fallout isn’t as fearsome as people said it might be, he’ll ask himself why on earth he dallied so long about it.
Finally, the test of who has the wind at their back politically will come for Mitt Romney or Barack Obama. Romney has no choice, he must take a stand on this issue, which he has before, and defend it. Currently, the GOP has been moving towards fighting the gay marriage debate at the state ballot box, where they’ve had the most success at winning, and avoiding the whole “constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage” thing. With Obama officially coming out, pun intended, in support of same-sex marriage, that means the fight moves back to the national stage. Will the Republicans engage in that national fight or try to keep the issue on the state level? The country is about to find out.
Update: Since Obama’s announcement, Mitt Romney is standing his ground on the states rights argument: