‘Like Lincoln and Emancipation’: Obama’s Gay Marriage Evolution
During the campaign for the Democratic nomination campaign in 2008, Obama gave one interview to an LGBT publication in which he said the following:
Anybody who’s been at an LGBT event with me can testify that my message is very explicit — I don’t think that the gay and lesbian community, the LGBT community, should take its cues from me or some political leader in terms of what they think is right for them. It’s not my place to tell the LGBT community, “Wait your turn.” I’m very mindful of Dr. King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” where he says to the white clergy, “Don’t tell me to wait for my freedom.”
Franklin Roosevelt famously said: “I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.” Obama told LGBT Americans in 2008 to ‘make him do it’, and that’s what the LGBT movement did. That’s why he evolved on marriage equality to the position of support he made yesterday.
The Washington media has been working themselves silly in what Jon Stewart accurately called “three days of frazzled bulls**t” since Joe Biden’s comments on Meet The Press on Sunday. Today, insiders were reporting that Obama had always planned to make these comments before November, just not right now.
I am with Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic, who said that:
“Much of this process reminds me of Lincoln weighing emancipation, even as he knew, in his heart, that slavery was a sin.”
He has not ‘evolved’ backwards, as Mittens has, since the mid-nineties. Obama has needed the determined ‘fierce advocacy’ of LGBT people and their supporters to push him to this point. Nay, he wanted that — he said as much.
And, yes, maybe some of that push on Obama is from his campaign’s funders. The Washington Post calls this ‘The Influence Industry,’ in a story more than a little reminiscent of surreptitious coverage of Jewish-moneyed supposed influence and the National Organization for Marriage, for one, has already picked this one up. Expect more.
Elsewhere on the right, the reaction was extremely interesting.
Fox News online initially headlined that Obama had declared a ‘War on Marriage.’ Immediately after host Sheppard Smith declared that Obama has “joined the 21st century,” that Republicans are “sitting very firmly without much question on the wrong side of history,” the headline was changed to ‘Obama flip flops.’
Most of the religious right’s reaction was predictable — Bill Donohue of the Catholic League suggested, without irony, given his likely vote, that Obama also favors polygamy. But two wingnuts stood out. Phyllis Schlafly, a general for the evangelical warriors from way before they had stormed the citadel, told The Hill that they’d already lost youth and that President Obama’s announcement could further erode their position.
In typical style, though she didn’t just blame Obama, she also blamed the public school system.
“I’m worried about what kind of mischief they’re teaching in the schools,” she said. “It isn’t just the gays, it’s some other groups. The schools are a real threat to the future of our country.”
American Values head and former FRC president Gary Bauer in another subtle nod to the reality of their position saw fit to dilute his message and ask “why the president is spending even one second of his time thinking about how and to radically transform the institution of marriage” as opposed to just talking about the economy.
Perhaps the most ridiculous remarks came from the Log Cabin Republicans, who are the house gays of the Republican party. Their Executive Director called Obama’s comments “offensive and callous” because he made them after the vote on gay marriage in the constitution in North Carolina. Another gay Republican group GOProud called the comments “cold comfort.”
They both mention the position of Dick Cheney, who has a lesbian daughter, on marriage equality. They forget that this is “cold comfort” to people in those states where Karl Rove put gay civil rights on the ballot in 2004 in order to drive evangelical voters to the polls.
Conservative pundit and former GW Bush speechwriter David Frum nailed the problem for the Republicans, and especially the (Koch brother) Libertarian wing, writing that:
The statement changes everything because it locks in place for another generation the Brand ID of Democrats as the party of cultural modernity. This Brand ID fits uneasily upon the Democrats, for they are also the party of ethnic minorities and recent immigrants. With the president’s statement, however, the modernists have gained the clear upper hand. Meanwhile on the Republican side of aisle, the cultural modernists keep losing. For all that people talk about the ascendancy of the Koch Brothers within the GOP, I’d venture that Charles and David feel about same-sex marriage almost exactly as President Obama does. Yet on this one, they lose.
I’d add that the above-ground standard bearer for the Libertarians in the GOP, Ron Paul, has yet to personally affirm his support for marriage equality.
A glance at the administration’s record prior to yesterday’s comments shows that they had already backed equality for gay and lesbian couples.
Writes Chris Geidner for Metro Weekly:
Obama’s position now is three-fold: (1) he personally supports same-sex marriage; (2) he believes as a policy matter that state, and not federal, law should define marriages, as it always has been in this country; and (3) he believes that there are federal constitutional limitations on those state decisions.
Just one more step remains on marriage equality, says Geidner, in terms of what the administration has in its power to do:
It is true that the administration has not tidily wrapped those strands together. Doing so, by filing an amicus brief in a state marriage lawsuit like the challenge against California’s Proposition 8 would make this point clear to all.
One other reaction. Lawrence O’Donnell spoke movingly about Obama’s comments with Pearl Berlin and Lennie Gerber, an elderly lesbian couple from High Point, North Carolina. They’ve been together for more than 45 years. He also spoke with Zach Wahls, the straight son of a lesbian couple from Iowa who has become a fierce advocate for LGBT rights. Watch:
Photo credit: Screenshot from barackobama.com