On May 9, 2012 President Barack Obama, in an interview with Robin Roberts of ABC News, became the first president in U.S. history to publicly support marriage equality, stating that “for me personally –- it is important…to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.” President Obama’s announcement came on the heels of Vice President Joe Biden’s interview on Meet the Press three days earlier, where the Vice President said he was “absolutely comfortable” with gay marriage. Whether or not Biden’s comment was a gaffe or a planned precursor to the Obama administration’s political shift is unclear; however what is clear (to both party leaders and lobbyist groups) is that after years of evolving on this issue President Obama has finally stood upright.
Consequently, the response to the president’s newfound conscience has been mixed, but predictable. The openly gay and decidedly liberal MSNBC political commentator, Rachel Maddow, characterized the president’s announcement as “political bravery,” while former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum condemned the announcement as a capitulation to “radical social engineering.” Ironically enough, these two perspectives share a common thread: emotional overreaction. As a defender of reason, I believe it is my duty to help lovers of the political game from becoming prisoners of the political moment.
First and foremost, with all due respect to Rachel Maddow and other jubilant liberals, nothing about the President’s support of marriage equality can be considered brave. According to every Gallup Poll taken regarding same-sex marriage, this issue has become decidedly less controversial with the electorate. Lydia Saad, the senior editor for the Gallup Poll, reported that 54% of adult Americans now believe same-sex relationships are morally acceptable and that 51% are in favor of gay marriage. Granted, like all statistics one can interpret these numbers in a myriad of ways, but one must acknowledge a simple mathematical truth: 51% is a majority. And since when is it appropriate to applaud the President of the United States for defending majority opinion?
Furthermore, according to the Pew Research Group, 71% of those polled said that the President’s recent support for gay marriage either does not change their opinion of him, or changes their opinion for the better. This evidence suggests that the electoral map has not changed much. Essentially, those voters who think less favorably of President Obama now than they did before, are voters for whom the President is an unlikely candidate anyway. Where is the political bravery in alienating voters who have already alienated you? I do not mean to suggest that in order for a president to demonstrate political bravery he or she must do something radically unpopular but, like a last second shot in basketball, there must be the risk of failure. President Obama is far from being a heroic leftist. He is what he always has been: a centrist with aspirations.
To Rick Santorum, or any other theocratic homophobe masquerading as a defender of family values, who claims that President Obama’s appeal to gays and lesbians will lead to moral oblivion. Be not afraid. Even if one were to accept the premise that allowing two people with the same genitalia to marry would fundamentally alter the cosmos (other than creating a scarier version of Bridezilla), one must remember that President Obama’s verbal support of marriage equality was exactly that – verbal support. Despite the fact that the Democratic Party is likely to add marriage equality as a political platform, the President gave no inclination that he would pursue it as administrative policy. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) still prevents the federal government from acknowledging any non-heterosexual union, preventing gays and lesbians from receiving social security benefits or filing joint tax returns. In addition, the Republican nominee for president, Mitt Romney, is even more conservative than Lord Voldemort (aka Dick Cheney): opposing both gay marriage and civil unions.
The Democrats and President Obama in particular have bent over backwards to make the political embrace of gays and lesbians as painless as possible for social conservatives — coddling opponents with semantics designed only to make fighting for justice more palatable, allowing religiosity to dictate policy. I do not wish to disregard the importance of President Obama’s gesture, especially for those who have been the victims of discrimination, but it was just a gesture. Our standards should be higher. I will be satisfied only when this issue is approached with the appropriate level of obviousness for which it deserves. Because if the President cannot be bold on something as straight-forward as human rights or civil liberty, how is he ever going to take a stand on the hard stuff like income inequality, the expansion of the military industrial complex, Israeli-Irani relations, or climate change. These are the issues that have the potential to drastically affect the world and require concrete legislative solutions. Yet we rave and rebuke President Obama for moving half a centimeter closer to fulfilling a promise guaranteed 236 years ago: that all men are created equal. But then again, politicians are only as good as the electorate. I guess we are all still evolving..