President Barack Obama said he believes that same-sex couples have a right to be married. There are two things to remember about this.
- His statement comes after gay rights organizations throttled back on contributions to Democratic candidates. Donations in the 2010 mid-term elections fell by 50 percent from the 2006 mid-term elections. Evidently the Democratic leaders got the message. The military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy was repealed in the 2010 lame-duck session of Congress. In 2011, the Obama administration stopped defending the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, a1996 law that forbid any federal government recognition of gay marriage. And now, with the 2012 Presidential elections coming up, the President endorses gay marriage.
- President Obama did not propose to support any federal law or Constitutional amendment in support of gay marriage. He would leave the issue to state governments, which is how things were before he issued his statement. I happen to think that is the correct position. I don’t believe in federalizing laws of marriage and divorce either. But it makes Obama’s statement a mere expression of personal opinion. It doesn’t change anything.
Mitt Romney for his part has signed a pledge to the National Organization for Marriage to support a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman, and said he would defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. While Barack Obama has done little to advance gay rights, he isn’t trying to turn the clock back.
Click on Obama’s historic affirmation of same-sex marriage for Glenn Greenwald’s comment in The Guardian newspaper. [Added 5/11/12]
Click on Mitt Romney reiterates opposition to gay marriage for Huffington Post’s comparison of Obama’s and Romney’s positions.
Click on Christian marriage and civil unions for my argument as to why government should not have the authority to say who’s married and who isn’t.
[Afterthought 5/11/12] Barack Obama’s statement on gay marriage is historically significant, because no previous President has declared himself so clearly. So maybe my comment above was a little mean-spirited. It is not consistent to criticize somebody for being equivocal, and then belittle him when he takes a clear stand. As Glenn Greenwald wrote, we can’t know people’s motives, all we can judge is their actions, good or bad.
Now you may disagree as to whether his statement was the right thing. That is a different matter.
[Another afterthought 5/12/12] As my friend Josh said, this shifts the focus of the Presidential election campaign toward the question of gay marriage (even through President Obama has declared it an issue for the states to decide) and away from the bipartisan consensus on creeping totalitarianism – detention without trial, torture, assassinations, universal surveillance, undeclared wars and governmental impunity.