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Tracy Baim

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Obama and Marriage: Do We Need a Secret Gay-Decoder Ring?

Posted: 07/06/11 06:20 PM ET

Mr. President, I have come to terms with your rules of engagement on LGBT issues. I have decided to tune out your well-written and dramatically spoken words. Instead, I will focus on your actions.

Otherwise, I think I would get whiplash.

The last few weeks have been like watching a tightrope walker. Your spokespeople and you have tried to stand on that tightrope, but there is no solid logic holding it up.

So, I am going to ignore your recent speeches about marriage, because I believe they are simply dishonest. And that's OK. You have many things to think about, including getting four more years to push your agenda. On same-sex marriage, your words do not matter anymore, and I am not alone in not believing your stated beliefs.

I say this because you told my newspaper (Outlines, which is now Windy City Times) in 1996 that you were fully committed to same-sex marriage rights and would fight efforts to limit those rights. You were just running for Illinois senate, and you were probably not concerned yet about higher office. In Chicago politics, your position was a mainstream one.

You slowly migrated toward the middle, first as "undecided" in 1998, then as "against" on practical political grounds in my 2004 interview with you. You soon began to invoke religion, causing great concern from your LGBT and allied supporters. And now you say it is a states' rights issue, but that you are "evolving" on your opinion.

I know you know better. Marriage is no more a states' rights issue than is immigration. The federal government plays a significant role in sanctioning marriages, from social security and inheritance to partner's citizenship and taxes.

As President, however, there are few concrete actions you can take to change this, and you are doing most of those things. Most importantly, you are stopping the Department of Justice from defending the part of the Defense of Marriage Act that refuses to recognize legal same-sex marriages performed in the states. The Department of Justice is not fully consistent on this yet, but they are doing some heavy lifting fighting DOMA in the courts.

This work is absolutely critical to the equal marriage movement.

Secondly, you are supporting the efforts of states such as New York in passing equal marriage laws.

And thirdly, you have created an environment where millions of LGBTs are positively affected by other, lesser regulations, laws, rulings and other changes in how the federal government does business, both in the U.S. and around the world. These are not sexy, headline-grabbing maneuvers, but they are concrete changes.

So why are you facing anger from the LGBT and allied community? Because the presidential post has never been only about rulings and laws, signing orders and proclamations. Past presidents have used their bully pulpit to push society forward (or backward, in some cases) in ways that mere laws cannot. They have used speeches to motivate and inspire us to believe that we could rid ourselves of slavery, set foot on the moon or survive war and depression.

You have the chance, Mr. President, to inspire and change hearts and minds. You have done it on myriad issues before, including on race, war, health care and economic doom. I respect your right not to speak out, and I will also base my opinions on your actions and not those much-desired words saying that you have fully "evolved" on marriage.

But there are many others who will not be so patient, who will not believe you, until you say those words:

"I support the right of the LGBT community to have full access to marriage as a federal right of citizenship."

Or is it that we all just need to get your secret gay-decoder ring to see the real meaning behind your well-parsed words?

 

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