Let’s see now: I asked President Obama to take a stand…it was all the way back to, well, yesterday (see just below) that I asked if “anybody is ready to really show some leadership” on the issue of same-sex marriage by just having “the courage to publicly do the right thing.” Today, the president publicly affirmed that he believes same-sex couples should be permitted to get married. Thank you, sir.
To deny some Americans the right to marry under civil law due to their gender is discriminatory. The fact that a majority of the states have constitutional or statutory prohibitions of same-sex marriage doesn’t change that fact, but even those barriers are likely to fade away as more people come around to the understanding that the prohibition is wrong. Fact is, most Americans are live-and-let-live sorts who wish the anti-gay extremists would just shut the hell up and stop always trying to make everybody else live according to the rules of their religion. Just yesterday the latest Gallup poll showed that half of all Americans believe same-sex marriages should be legal, and the numbers in favor have steadily grown over the years.
Was Obama’s announcement today politically brave? Maybe. Taking this stand isn’t going to change the minds of the religious extremists who make up so much of the conservative fringe that’s taking (taken?) control of the Republican Party: they hate him and are never going to vote for him no matter what he says, on this subject or any other. From a political standpoint, those people are a lost cause. This may hurt him among some less strident traditionalists who can’t go along with his stand on this issue, and now are lost from the group of independent voters who were still undecided; those numbers are pretty hard to calculate, though.
On the other hand, it has to help him among the gay rights supporters who voted for him four years ago and are disappointed that he hasn’t been stronger on the issue, despite his administration getting rid of don’t ask don’t tell and stopping any government support of the Defense of Marriage Act. And it should help him among some independents who feel that taking a stand on a controversial issue deserves to be rewarded; the numbers there, too, are tough to add up. Maybe his campaign numbers-crunchers have already done that, and maybe they think that this will be a net gain for Obama in November; we’ll see.
(One lesson here: despite the characterizations his enemies use, Barack Obama really is a very moderate and middle of the road politician. If he was the big liberal the conservatives claim he is he’d have started pushing gay marriage years ago.)
In either case, Obama has shown us that he can be a leader: he’s taken a stand that he knows is not universally popular and run the risk of political harm…time will show whether or not he can persuade America to the rightness of his position on this issue. Now, he did take his sweet time about doing it—he was very cautious, and put his toe in the water with all that “evolving” crap to see what would happen. He could have kept his mouth shut and waited for the issue to settle down and disappear again in a week or two, as it surely would have done. But he didn’t. Good for him. Good for us.