Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Obama's Evolution

It was inevitable.  President Obama has evolved.  Whether his recalcitrance threatened to become too much of a distraction, particularly after his Vice President got ahead of him, or whether he ultimately realized it was no longer politically risky to do so, Obama has finally endorsed same-sex marriage:  “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.”

As Greg Sargent put it, despite the fact that he had to be pushed into taking this step, it is an historic one -- a civil rights milestone:  "Obama has become the first — and only — sitting president to come out for full equality for gay and lesbian Americans."

This is huge.  Frank Bruni:  "Our highest elected official, our president, said that same-sex couples should have the right to marry, something that none of his predecessors had done, something that he had refused to do since becoming a national political figure. There’s a powerful message in that."

But -- and there's always a "but" with Obama -- the President made sure to emphasize that his position on same-sex marriage reflects his "personal" belief and he "still supports the concept of states deciding issue on their own."  Indeed,  his Administration made sure to clarify that "President Obama believes marriage is a state issue and the federal government does not have a role."  (I'm not sure who he is trying to appease with his states' rights hedge given that the right wing will skewer him anyway.  Indeed, FOX News is already out with its "Obama Declares War On Marriage" headline.)

As a practical matter, until there is a progressive sea change in Congress or the Supreme Court, it is up to the states, not the federal government to regulate marriage and civil unions.  And with the vote in North Carolina yesterday, there are 31 states (including the entire south) that don't allow same-sex couples the rights heterosexual couples take for granted.    

But that doesn't mean the President cannot play an important role as a leader -- the leader -- in the continued struggle for equal rights.  And so, Obama needs to evolve just a little more.  He needs to unequivocally state, as President of the United States, that the deprivation of rights based on sexual orientation is wholly unacceptable -- just as it was wholly unacceptable to deny such rights based on race.  This is not a states rights issue and it is not merely a matter of personal preference.  This is about the fundamental principle of equality.


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