When the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously ruled that it was unconstitutional to deny the freedom to marry based on sexual orientation, the White House issued the following statement:
The President respects the decision of the Iowa Supreme Court, and continues to believe that states should make their own decisions when it comes to the issue of marriage. Although President Obama supports civil unions rather than same-sex marriage, he believes that committed gay and lesbian couples should receive protection under the law.
It was quickly noted that the statement lacked the word 'equal' or any variation of it. Under quick and heavy criticism from the gay community, the White House either issued a correction, completing the phrase, 'equal protection under the law'.
I sarcastically joked that what was missing in the statement was an entire sentence:
President Obama, a brilliant constitutional law professor, supports the separate but equal policy that is increasingly being ruled unconstitutional by State courts.
The statement was messaged to death and probably signed off by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs or one of his deputies. I can't help but think that the gay staffers in the White House wouldn't have cautioned that such a response would not be well-received.
When the Vermont legislature dramatically overrode the veto of Republican Governor Jim Douglas, the White House had nothing to say.
Today, when Maine's Governor John Baldacci became the first Governor in the history of the American nation to sign a bill granting civil marriage rights to gays, the White House didn't issue a statement (but they did issue a Presidential Proclamation for World Trade Week). ABC News' Jake Tapper must have noticed. He asked Robert Gibbs about Maine in today's press briefing (via The Advocate):
Jake Tapper: Does the President or the White House have a reaction to the Governor of Maine signing a same-sex marriage bill?
Robert Gibbs: No, I think the President's position on same-sex marriages has been talked about and discussed.
Tapper: He opposes same-sex marriage.
Gibbs: He supports civil unions.
Tapper: Does that mean that he's going to say or do anything against what the citizens of Maine--
Gibbs: Not that I'm aware of. I think the President believes this is an issue that's best addressed by the states.
That's all of the acknowledgment that the gay community gets. Nothing more. We're in the midst of mind-blowing progress towards being treated equally by the law and the White House can't muster one bit of emotion or congratulatory tone. To say it's disappointing wouldn't come close.
Here's the thing: Robert Gibbs, who I have known since 1998, is a good person and I'm sure he is happy for the advances towards equality for the gay community. But, there is a mentality that anything 'gay' is controversial and toxic. The political 'ruling class' has always propagated that notion and it remains to this day. It permeates campaigns and government alike. That's why we get half-ass measly statements, if anything.
Here's the problem: Everybody knows the Democrats are for equality for the gays. The Republicans have spent a gazillion dollars telling everybody that for the past 18 years or so. So when a Democrat back tracks and falls all over himself to answer a 'gay' question, it shows fear. It shows dishonesty. And nobody's buying it.
The Solution: The White House and other Democrats should shed their feigned distaste for equal rights for gays. Now is the time. We are in the midst of a revolution. Public opinion is changing faster than ever. Even Republicans are considering embracing some of these issues because they are beginning to realize that their homophobic ranting is driving the under 30 vote away in droves. Embrace history and be a part of advancing the next big expansion of equal rights to a minority in America. We've never looked back on that with shame. Indeed, they are the are some of the proudest moments in our history.