When the announcement came that President Obama had declared his support for gay marriage, a few gay friends of mine put in their Facebook status updates that they felt the president was merely "pandering." Their attitude was that the announcement was disingenuous and felt like saying, "Thanks, but no thanks." I was taken aback by that reaction. Granted, it was only a few people, but I sensed they couldn't be the only ones. The people who had this reaction don't share the president's political affiliation or the majority of his views, but in my opinion, what happened yesterday transcends politics and party lines.
One of these friends asked, "If this is not being done in an effort to pander to the gay vote, what do you think President Obama's motives could possibly be?" My answer? Obama's reasoning has everything to do with total transparency before the election. This statement makes clear who he is as a man and as a president. No more hedging; take it or leave it; and if he loses, he lost while telling the truth.
Given general and perhaps stereotypical attitudes toward politicians, that alone feels unprecedented. This is a moment that I believe goes beyond the mere acknowledgment that gay people should be treated equally. This moment of transparency has the opportunity to evolve politics to a higher level, and to evolve politicians in terms of how they choose to handle themselves.
Given that many Americans are not accustomed to political figures being emphatic and clear on the issue of gay marriage, it does not surprise me that what he said was met with cynicism and the assumption that it must serve some political purpose. This is a risky position to take and does him no favors. He stands to lose more votes than gain. The president could have kept hedging on the issue, as he has for the last three years, and the same people would have voted for him, and the rest would have continued to disagree.
One friend wrote, "If I really believed him, I would be more thrilled. I just don't believe he is any different than any past president on equal rights for us." To this I had to say that no other president in history has ever uttered or acknowledged that gay people are entitled to equal rights under the law until now. In my lifetime Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter didn't. Ronald Reagan didn't utter the word "AIDS," then known as the "gay disease," for seven of his eight years in office. George H. W. Bush didn't. As much as Bill Clinton may be a favorite of mine, he didn't, either. He gave us "don't ask, don't tell," which was all about gays staying quiet. And George W. Bush certainly didn't. But now Barack Obama has!
That makes him different. He has made it clear that gay people matter, and that their relationships are valid! I believe he did so at great political risk. That level of guts and living by what is correct according to the Constitution of this country reminds me of why I was thrilled he was elected president four years ago. For me, this moment is an example of the "change" he promised while campaigning in 2008.
As a gay citizen of the United States, I am grateful to President Obama for acknowledging that my life, dreams, and goals for personal happiness matter just as much as anyone else's. I think my gay friends who viewed this moment as "pandering," even if they disagree with the president on everything else, need to think again.