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Obama and Gay Marriage: A President Liberates Himself and the World

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Watching President Obama sitting in the Oval Office speaking out in support of gay marriage, you couldn't help but notice how comfortable he was. I've described him in the past as being in the closet on gay marriage. Closeted people have a habit of cowering and answering questions tersely, often while on the run. But there he was, sitting back with the presidential seal right behind him, proudly laying out his beliefs, telling ABC's Robin Roberts, "I've just concluded that, for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married."

He was cool and confident. It was the 2008 Barack Obama, not the stiff, marble-mouthed 2011 guy who, rather than take a position, mumbled something about "evolving." Perhaps even more startling, on the website of his campaign -- which apparently took in $1 million dollars in 90 minutes yesterday from big donors and young contributors -- there it was, his quote at the top of the page: "Same-sex couples should be able to get married."

Barack Obama didn't just come out of the closet on gay marriage. He's flaunting it!

More precisely, he has, even if briefly and on only this one issue, liberated himself from the egg-shell-walking trappings of his job. It's wonderful to watch. And it's also a smart and bold political move -- and one he had to make -- in the midst of a lackluster election campaign, in which he draws a sharp difference between himself and Mitt Romney and reminds people that he has an edge.

It's already put Romney on the defensive, as the GOP candidate got testy when asked about gay marriage yesterday, and wound up coming out against civil unions too -- which even George W. Bush supported. Romney, who last week saw the embarrassing resignation of Richard Grenell, his newly-named openly gay foreign policy spokesperson, is now in a box. Trying to move to the middle, the campaign's gay meltdown over Grenell had Romney caving in to the far-right blowhard Bryan Fischer, even as Romney desperately tried to assure people it wasn't true. Fisher was mocking Romney a few days ago, wondering how Romney could let himself so easily be pushed around. "How is he going to stand up to North Korea if he can be pushed around by a yokel like me?" Fischer asked. "I don't think Romney is realizing the doubts that this begins to raise about his leadership."

The last thing Romney wants is to bow to the Bryan Fischers of world again, pandering to the extreme as he heads to the center. But the Bryan Fischers are going to be demanding Romney take on Obama very forcefully for so brazenly and extremely promoting the homosexual agenda now (even if a majority of Americans support it).

And it's unclear how much that would really work anyway at energizing the right-wing base. I know a lot of people are worried about that reality, and the pundits have been going on about it -- how Obama's move could now supposedly awaken the Christian right masses and get them enthused. But if they haven't been energized already -- with Obama not defending the Defense of Marriage Act and ending "don't ask, don't tell" -- I'm not sure that this is going to energize them any further. The people who would vote against Obama solely because he is for gay marriage had already believed he was for gay marriage.

And there's something the pundits are missing. The voters in the evangelical base, historically, don't just get energized by the supposedly horrible things the opposition is doing. They also need to feel a complete connection with the candidate they back -- think George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan -- and know he is one of them. They need to feel love.

They just don't feel that with Romney, a man who once said he was better on gay rights than Ted Kennedy, and I'm not sure what he can do to inspire it. The kind of guy who puts his dog on the roof of his car just doesn't make people feel he cares, let alone that his religious faith is something some of their leaders view as a dangerous cult.

Obama, on the other hand, just created a whole lot of love within his base, with money surging, people lining up to volunteer and literally crying over his having spoken out. I fielded calls all day on my radio program from people pulling their cars over while in tears, so overcome by the president's words. A powerful emotional bond was reinforced yesterday -- after fraying for some time -- with many of the same people, gay and straight, who felt similarly in 2008.

They once again see Obama as someone who stands for something and someone they must do what it takes to get elected. That translates across the political spectrum, even to those who may disagree with the president but see a strong leader standing up and affirming himself -- exactly the kind of attributes that those wavering independents vote on.

Last night a tweet from a gay teenager summed it all up and underscored how the president showed the kind of great leadership Americans expect in their presidents: "Going to bed knowing I have the support of the most powerful man in the world. #feelsamazing #equality #itdoesgetbetter." That is change you can believe in.