The first African-American president has now become the only sitting president ever to support same-sex marriage. It is a bold, historic move by Barack Obama, and has yet-undetermined political implications.
“I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” the president said yesterday in an interview with ABC News anchor Robin Roberts. “I had hesitated on gay marriage, in part, because I thought that civil unions would be sufficient. I was sensitive to the fact that, for a lot of people, the word marriage invoked very powerful traditions and religious beliefs.”
The president went further to explain how his Christian faith informed this decision. “The thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the golden rule: treat others the way you would want to be treated. And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids, and that’s what motivates me as president.”
The move is courageous for a president only months before facing a critical re-election battle, in a nation that, most polls reveal, remains evenly divided on this cultural issue. President Obama framed the debate as a generational one, acknowledging that parents of some of Sasha and Malia’s friends were loving, gay couples.
“I respect the beliefs of others, and the right of religious institutions to act in accordance with their own doctrines,” an Obama campaign statement read, following the historic announcement, “but I believe that in the eyes of the law, all Americans should be treated equally. And where states enact same-sex marriage, no federal act should invalidate them.”
President Obama’s announcement on such a controversial issue exhibits heft and leadership, especially considering that he runs the risks of alienating religious African-American voters, who remain among his most loyal constituency.
Obama has already delivered on many of his original campaign promises: from ending the discriminatory U.S. military policy ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ which excluded openly gay servicewomen and men, to offering partner benefits to federal workers and halting the defense of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a federal act which allows individual states to ignore same-sex marriages granted in other states.
Barack Obama’s White House has proven to be more progressive, inclusive and proactive on gay rights than previous one. It was clear to many observers, from his legislative record, that Obama fully supported equal marriage rights, and pundits questioned whether he was sticking to the rhetoric of “one man and one woman” as a politically convenient way to avoid controversy.
Vice President Joe Biden, however, known for gaffes and speaking inconvenient truths, pushed the bar last Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press when he admitted his belief that gay couples deserve marriage rights. A similar admission followed from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, which sparked a media firestorm about whether the president could long straddle the party line. But Barack Obama silenced the critics, risked political repercussions and created a stark contrast between himself, his candidacy and the presumed GOP rival and consummate flip-flopper, Mitt Romney.
Mitt Romney, during a 1994 Senate campaign against late Senator Ted Kennedy, promised “full equality for gay and lesbian citizens.” But yesterday the former Massachusetts governor responded to President Obama’s statements by saying “I do not favor marriage between people of the same gender, and I do not favor civil unions.” In an interview with Denver’s Fox affiliate KDVR-TV, Romney went further, “My view is that domestic partnership benefits, hospital visitation rights, and the like are appropriate, but the others are not.”
Mitt’s unveiled duplicity doesn’t end there. One political commentator noted that Romney is actually to the right of former President Bush on this issue. Several Bush administration officials and leading Republicans, like Ken Mehlman, Dick Cheney, Ted Olsen and even John McCain’s wife and daughter, Cindy and Meghan, are on the record in favor of gay unions.