All that greenhouse gas carbon dioxide everyone exhaled during the presidential campaign in the big debate on race may have been unnecessary air pollution.
It turns out that Barack Obama's civil rights issue is now coming clearly into focus, and it's not about race. It's about gays.
And why not? Racial divides aren't gone. But look at it from Mr. Obama's perspective when it comes to prioritizing which minority group should get his attention: He's black. Starting Tuesday, he's president. Case closed. Or he could put it this way: I am, therefore it is. Let's move on (.org)
A few days ago, Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs posted a video on the new Administration's web site, change.gov, answering a constituent's question about the military's "don't ask, don't tell," probably one of the most nonsensical, silly and politically contorted policies ever to come out of the Clinton White House. More pretzel-like even than what the definition of "is" is. "Don't decide, don't please anyone" was more like it.
There'd been some concern that Mr. Obama seemed to be waffling on his earlier statements that he was going to dump "don't ask." Was he going to end the policy or not? "You don't hear politicians give a one-word answer much," Mr. Gibbs answered in more than one word. "But it's 'Yes.'"
That's a change the gay community and supporters have been seeking since the policy went into effect in 1993. As Chronicle reporter Matt Stannard notes today, Mr. Obama is firmly in line behind people like Colin Powell and Sam Nunn, both of whom first supported "Don't ask.." and later came to oppose it. Also it's a safer bet when three-quarters of Americans polled now believe gays and lesbians should serve openly in the military, compared with less than half in '93.
But the President-elect also picked gay Anglican bishop Gene Robinson to offer an inaugural prayer at the Lincoln Memorial next week. That'll be some mash-up with anti-gay marriage Pastor Rick Warren, who's also in the religious prayer line-up Tuesday. Mr. Warren said, adding fuel to the post Prop 8 fire, that opposing gay marriage was "not even just a Christian issue. It's a humanitarian and human issue."
Bishop Robinson, meantime, said Mr. Obama was showing he indeed wanted "everyone at the table." Like a big, dysfunctional family at Thanksgiving.
I can just imagine Barack Obama wrapping his arms around both Messrs. Warren and Robinson in a Clintonian Mideast summit-style hug, the two men of God vibrating like magnets when you tried to push the wrong ends together as a kid.
Familiarity, the President-elect seems to have decided, will breed tolerance.
Even Oprah, Mr. Obama's most famous and publicly enthusiastic fan is dealing with the gay issue, whether her audience likes it or not.
On a recent show, a minister told her that "Being gay is a gift from God." And another guest added that people were "gay by divine right." Even for the all-embracing Oprah, this was a little bit of a jolt. Check out her expression. She was still reeling a few minutes later as she went to commercial break. "We're still dealing with 'being gay is a gift from God,'" she said.
Commenters on Gawker couldn't resist a little satire: "the problem with gifting gays," wrote Monsignor Xtravagante, "is that far too many of them end up taken to the pound or let loose after the holidays because children just don't realize how much work it is to take care of them. People: if you're going to gift gays, please make sure the recipient is ready and willing to take care of a gay, otherwise they may end up unwanted, released into the wild and could then turn feral - and no one wants feral gays rampaging thru their neighborhood, eating the native wildlife and/or knocking over trash cans in the middle of the night. Thank you." You're welcome.
"I got a gay for Hannukah," wrote Fishnets and Cigarettes. "Best gift ever. To whom do I address my thank you note."
An easy snark mark. But there it was, right on middle-America-loving (and loved) Oprah.
There's even been a kind of Mormon-gay bible group discussion. Dominic Holden, on the blog thestranger.com, tells the tale of wanting some Prop 8 revenge so he ordered a copy of the Church's Book of Mormon, just to make them spend the money sending him one. What he got, he said, were two missionary elders at his front door. Elder Guthrie and Elder Leatham. There was not agreement in the end, but there was hand-shaking.
So the ground is plowed, so to speak, for an Obama initiative about gay rights, and he seems like he wants to plant some seeds there.