"I will tell you that I don't believe in gay marriage... I believe in civil unions but it should not be called marriage."
Then Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said that during a campaign stop in Nelsonville, Ohio a day before the Super II Tuesday primary in March 2008. The great puzzle then is why so many are so hot at President Obama for backing the Defense of Marriage Act. He has not backed a step away from his Ohio campaign stump words.
His unshakeable personal, political and legal belief is that the only marriage that can be called marriage is between a man and a woman. This has absolutely nothing to do with his solid, and at times outspoken, tout of anti-discrimination, civility, and just plain human respect for gay rights. He has backed that in speeches and legislation 18 times before he grabbed the White House.
This still doesn't change his firm belief that marriage is marriage only when it's between a man and a woman. Gay groups, the mayors of Los Angeles and San Francisco, and some congresspersons, can scream at him to withdraw the Justice Department's brief filed seeking the dismissal of the legal challenge to the DOMA in a federal court in California. They can bash him as a flip flop and a betrayer of his campaign promises on gay rights. This still ignores the bitter truth that candidate Obama and now President Obama has been the paragon of consistency, even honesty, in opposing same sex marriage. This has nothing to do with politics, but his personal belief layered over with a tinge of religious interpretation, since he's cited conflicted passages from the Bible, to square his support of gay rights with his opposition to legalizing same sex marriage.
Obama's rock solid belief in traditional marriage was plainly evident at the opening gun of his presidential campaign in South Carolina in January 2008. He ignored loud protests and shouts for him to dump gay-challenged gospel singer Donnie McClurkin from his three date barnstorm tour through the state. The show complete with McClurkin went on. Critics naively chalked the McClurkin-Obama link up to his frantic need to grab the black vote away from rival Hillary Clinton. Politics no doubt was at play big in the McClurkin decision. But McClurkin was also a wildly popular and compelling singer and preacher who stirred the passions of hard nosed evangelical blacks in South Carolina and other must win states. McClurkin also stirred Obama's religious passions as well. Though McClurkin pleaded that he was not anti-gay, it did not change one whit his view and that of all other black evangelicals that same sex marriage is a Biblical abomination.
Bush masterfully tapped that homophobic sentiment among fundamentalist religious blacks in 2000 in part with McClurkin and even more masterfully in 2004 again with McClurkin and the top gun mega black preachers in Ohio and Florida. He tapped it so masterfully that Bush's naked pander to gay bashing with the GOP spawned anti-gay marriage initiative in Ohio did much to win over a big chunk of black evangelical leaning voters to him. A Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies poll in 2004 found that blacks by a far larger margin than the overall population opposed gay marriage. This raised a few eyebrows among some political pundits, but there were much earlier signs of blacks' relentless hostility to gays and gay rights.
In Florida and Wisconsin, Republicans aggressively courted and wooed key black religious leaders. They dumped big bucks from Bush's Faith-Based Initiative program into church-run education and youth programs. Black church leaders not only endorsed Bush but in some cases they actively worked for his re-election, and encouraged members of their congregations to do the same.
Polls show that more Americans than ever say that they support civil rights for gays, and a torrent of gay themed TV shows present non-stereotypical depictions of gays. However, this increased tolerance has not dissipated the hostility that far too many blacks, especially hard core Bible thumping blacks, feel toward gay marriage. California Proposition 8 backers quickly wised up to this and corraled a pack of fundamentalist black religious leaders in Los Angeles and other areas to stir up their flock against legalizing gay marriage. Then they got ticked at Obama for the White House's stone silence when the state supreme court backed the measure. The White House silence was no surprise.
The other big knock against Obama is that he didn't have to do anything on the DOMA; that he could have easily kept the White House's nose out of it by letting the legal challenge to it run its course. Other presidents have done that when they thought a law was unconstitutional or unjust.
This argument is tone deaf to what Obama has said and feels about traditional marriage too. Given that conviction his defense of the DOMA should not surprise or anger anyone.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His weekly radio show, "The Hutchinson Report" can be heard weekly in Los Angeles Fridays on KTYM Radio 1460 AM and live streamed nationally on ktym.com