It was never whether, but when President Obama would say yes to gay marriage. The tipoff that he'd back gay marriage came long before Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said yes to gay marriage. It came before legions of top Democrats said yes to gay marriage. It even came before gay activists marched, picketed, and saber rattled him to get off the fence and fully back gay marriage. The tip did not come in his words that he was "evolving" on the issue or the cautious times he opposed state gay marriage ballot bans.
The tip came before he grabbed the White House. Obama backed gay rights in speeches and legislation more than a dozen times as a state legislator and U.S. senator. The next tip was his action in the White House. He's appointed more openly gays to every imaginable policy making post both inside and outside the White House. He made his record number of openly gay administration appointments in much faster time than Bill Clinton. He did what most presidents don't do when they make appointments. He did it quietly and he consulted every step of the way with gay activist lobbying groups. He reversed his position on the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and called it abhorrent. He issued executive orders mandating that hospitals treat gay and lesbian couples the same as heterosexual ones, and at the same time expand rights for gay couples who work in the federal government. And there's his stout effort to wipe DODA from the military books.
But the two things that pushed Obama to finally stop the tight rope walk on the issue came courtesy of the GOP. Republican National Committee chair Reince Preibus flatly said that Obama was trying to have it both ways by still formally opposing gay marriage while at the same time winking and nodding at gay groups that despite his words he gave unabashed support to gay rights, and that included without saying it, gay marriage. Preibus, though for politically insidious, self-serving reasons, pretty much got it right. With four to five swing states in the balance in the November election Obama will need gays to hit the streets in droves as campaign volunteers, dig deep in their pockets and shell out campaign dollars, and turn out in vote numbers that will turn his reelection drive into a crusade. Obama can no longer afford the fence act with gay groups.
Then there is North Carolina's lopsided vote to ban gay marriage and to tighten restrictions on civil unions. Obama publicly expressed dismay and disappointment at the ban. He had little choice. Beyond his personal and principled abhorrence to state gay marriage bans, it would have been intolerable for him to stay silent about the vote in the state that he and the Democrats picked for their 2012 convention. White House silence or simple condemnation of the vote would send the wrong signal that Obama and the Democrats were willing to hold their nose and have their convention in a gay unfriendly state solely for political expediency. Obama's win in the state in 2008 is a major reason he is in the White House. He broke the iron clad thirty year plus grip that GOP presidents and presidential candidates had on the state. Jimmy Carter was the last Democratic presidential candidate to win the state in 1976. Obama broke the GOP presidential grip there with a record turnout from blacks and young persons and gays. There wasn't much risk that he'd lose the votes of conservative Christian evangelicals, many conservative Catholics, or ultra-conservatives by openly saying yes to gay marriage since he never had and will never get their votes anyway.
But more importantly, public opinion is now on the president's side. Polls show that a slender majority of Americans now back legalizing gay marriage. The number that back legalization is greatest among the voting group that Obama desperately needs to rev up again in 2012 as he did in 2008 and that's young voters. His stance also won't likely hurt him with the majority of centrist independents whom he also must win over again. Their issues are jobs, the economy and spending, not the morals wars of the right. A CNN/ORC poll in late March indicated that policies towards gays and lesbians wallowed at the bottom of the public's list of most crucial issues facing the country. For many anti-gay shouting from the right is a turn off.
Opposition to discrimination has always been a morally and politically right position for Obama, and that has included gender and sexual preference, not just racial discrimination. There was no doubt then that it was only a matter of time that Obama would finally say yes to gay marriage.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour heard weekly on the nationally network broadcast Hutchinson Newsmaker Network.
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