President Obama Should Come Out on Gay Marriage


Written by Sam Fulwood III

President Barack Obama has arguably done more than any other president for the gay community. He was proactive on repealing prohibitions on gays and lesbians serving openly in the armed forces, and last year his administration announced it wouldn’t defend in court the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law banning the recognition of same-sex marriages. These actions make his reluctance to lead on marriage equality and an executive order on workplace protections for gay and transgender Americans all the more frustrating for activists. Pollsters think he’s worried what voters will think if he comes out fully in support of marriage equality, but it’s questionable whether this would really hurt his re-election chances.

Marriage equality reappeared last weekend (did it ever go away?) after Vice President Joe Biden said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he supported gay marriage. “I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual—men and women marrying—are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties,” he said.

Vice President Biden’s comments were followed by Education Secretary Arne Duncan stating on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that he supported gay marriage.

Yet another political backdrop to all this palaver over gay marriage is today’s (Tuesday’s) ballot initiative in North Carolina that could ban gay marriage in the Tar Heel state. President Obama opposes the initiative, arguing it’s unfair to enact state constitutional provisions that enshrine discrimination into law. Still, the president has avoided offering a full-throated support of gay marriage.

Would it threaten President Obama’s re-election if he did so? Washington Post columnist Chris Cillizza seems to think so. Offering the craziest presidential theory since the dawn of the birther movement, Cillizza speculates in his “The Fix” blog that the president is reluctant to side with gay marriage advocates, fearing black voters will shun him if he does.

To reach this absurd conclusion, Cillizza points to polls that suggest increasing support for gay marriage among affluent and well-educated white voters, independent voters, and voters between the ages of 40–49. Yet, he argues, the administration is quaking from supporting gay marriage because polls show a majority of African American voters disapprove.

“Viewed through that lens, coming out in support of gay marriage looks like an unnecessary political risk for Obama,” Cillizza concludes with illogical certainty. “Yes, it would clearly thrill a portion of his base (gays and lesbians) but it could alienate—at least in parts—another portion of his base (African Americans) that he desperately need to win reelection this fall.”

Cillizza has the polling data correct, but his analysis is way off base. My colleague Ruy Teixeira, who studies polling and demographic trends for the Center for American Progress and The Century Foundation, offered a more plausible theory for President Obama’s reticence on gay marriage.

“I think it’s more likely because of white, working-class voters, who tend to be pretty unenthusiastic on the issue as well,” Teixeira told me. “He’s already in enough trouble with these voters to be hesitant about further annoying them by changing his stance on gay marriage.”

Oddly, Cillizza argues that President Obama doesn’t stand to lose support among gay and lesbian voters, no matter what his public stand might be. “It’s hard to see the LGBT community abandoning Obama—either for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney or to simply sit on the sidelines—given that the President can point to the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and the decision to stop defending the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act as signs that he is working to address their concerns,” he writes.

Yet Cillizza fails to mention working-class whites’ opposition to marriage equality and seems to believe black voters would waver in their support of President Obama. Such an argument is utter nonsense, as even the most conservative, church-going black voters have other issues on their collective minds than punishing the president for what he says or doesn’t say about gay marriage.

Jamelle Bouie at The American Prospect makes this clear, writing recently that African Americans are most concerned with jobs, health care, and economic growth.

“When you couple this with extremely high support for President Obama—and also, the fact that black people hold different opinion on different things—it’s no real surprise that African Americans, as a class, are less interested in whether gay people can marry or serve openly in the military,” Bouie writes.

Or as another of my colleagues Aisha Moodie-Mills, an advisor for CAP’s LGBT Progress team, says, “It’s really quite ridiculous to believe that black folks would stay home and not vote for the first black president over gay marriage. It’s just ludicrous! No megachurch pastor, as bigoted as he may be, has the power to persuade a whole congregation of black folks to turn against this president.”

Indeed, an earlier Washington Post article suggests just that. Black voters may not have much enthusiasm for marriage equality but President Obama’s views on the subject don’t shake African American support for him. “The president has overwhelming support from the black church because people are looking at the bigger picture,” civil rights leader Rev. Joseph Lowery told The Post last year. “He will not be hurt by one issue.”

But that’s not the real game afoot. The noxious idea that gay marriage will be President Obama’s kryptonite is part of the conservative mischief-making machine, a divide-and-conquer gambit to pit the diverse interests of progressives against one another. In this case the conservative strategy is to drive a wedge between African American voters and gay and lesbian voters, making it appear that the president must choose between favoring one group and offending the other.

Phil Reese reports in The Washington Blade that documents from the antigay National Organization for Marriage were recently leaked, giving us insight into their underhanded tactics:

The strategic goal … is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks—two key Democratic constituencies. Find, equip, energize and connect African-American spokespeople for marriage; develop a media campaign around their objections to gay marriage as a civil right; provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots.

But it won’t work. Black voters will be enthusiastic and fully supportive of the president. Gay and lesbian voters, too. Why am I so sure? Well, it’s the nature of politics. At some points along the way, even the most favored politician will make decisions or behave in ways that even ardent supporters dislike. In this case I’d prefer to hear President Obama be as clear and affirmative on gay marriage as others in his cabinet have. In time, I believe he will.

But right now, in the heat of a re-election campaign, rational and progressive voters understand what’s going on—and what’s at stake. There’s really no choice. Staying away from the polls or siding with the hateful alternative is a deal with the devil.

This post was originally published by the Center for American Progress.


Related Stories:

Obama Camp Still ‘Evolving’ on Marriage Equality

Stanley Tucci: Why Shouldn’t Gay Couples Get Married?

Confirmed: Romney Beholden to Anti-Gay Fanatics


Pete Souza / White House


Patti T.
P T5 years ago cut off:
Someone should tell her that being on a reality show (dancing with some stars-that she's NOT) does not qualify her to interview on politics. C'MON SARAH, don't you even have any authority in your home either?!
Just throwing in.....talking about GOP & Michele B.--aren't we having fun watching the spin on our "all american" girl Michele after her "Swiss Citizenship" came, shall we say, 'out of the closet'
I'm going to date myself here, but all this Spinning the GOP has been doing reminds me of that old song......"I'm so dizzy my head is spinning, etc."

Patti T.
P T5 years ago

"While it's great to listen to your kids' ideas, there's also a time when dads simply need to be dads," Palin wrote, among other things. "In this case, it would've been helpful for him to explain to Malia and Sasha that while her friends parents are no doubt lovely people, that's not a reason to change thousands of years of thinking about marriage. Or that – as great as her friends may be – we know that in general kids do better growing up in a mother/father home. Ideally, fathers help shape their kids' worldview."
Who hasn't heard this interview that Bristol Palin gave when Obama came out with his support? If so, I 'd be interested in reading those comments.
My point being, she said 'kids do better growing up a mother/father home' So I'm wondering, just how is HER child doing that she had out of wedlock & is not with his Father? HMMM. Kinda blows up ole rush's comment of using an aspirin doesn't it? (gotta love the gop)
Just listening to her I pretty much think that her mother took after santorum & home schooled-she sounds just like her Sarah (the school of "speak w/o knowing what you're going to say"-I think Michele an alumni as well)
I imagine the GOP cringed when they heard her interview, I personally laughed-for some reason I was not at all shocked. Someone should tell her that being on a reality show

Ira L.
Ellie L5 years ago

In response to SandyE: I LOVE America and that's exactly why I'm voting for Obama's reelection as President of the United States!!!

Frances C.
Frances C5 years ago

He did! Hooray for President Obama!

Steve A.
Steve A5 years ago

I'm a (confirmed) hetrosexual who lives in Australia and I wish I could vote for a leader who supported gay marriage.

Our Prime Minister and the opposition leader sit on the fence, totally unprepared to make a decision untill the polls say that 99.999% of the voting public want gay marriage.

What's so special about the word marriage that makes it the property of Kristians?

Oh yes Genesis 2:24 is the ususl biblical source. It states, "For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh."

Yes. Good. Sorry? I don't see the word marriage there.

"Marriage is for life and gay people change partners more often than their shirt." seems to be one of the reasons given.

Maybe for some. But statistics show there's a high divorce rate in married hetro couples, and often for, wait for it, infidelity!

And the most vocal imposers of Gods anger are often those with the biggest flaws. If I shout loudly enough against gays nobody will notice I'm a paedophile/embezeller/wife beater.

janet T.
janet t5 years ago

It is sad to see all the bigotry in the Land of the Free, Home of the Brave. There is nothing Brave about being afraid of a black man in the White House. There is nothing Free about saying "my religion should define what you can do with your life". I remember a time when churches would not expect the whole United States to follow their religion. I thought that we left that behind when we left Europe and became american citizens. By the way, I am very proud of POTUS Obama this afternoon.

Sandy Erickson
Sandy Erickson5 years ago

Presedent Obama has done more to distroy America than any other president. Obama has caused high unemploment,excessive debt,opened our borders to illegel alien invasion. Obama does relly cre about gays he is just looking for more votes. DO NOT RE-ELECT OBAMA IF YOU LOVE AMERICA!

Mitch D.
Mitch D5 years ago

And he did.... AWESOME!!!

Julie D.
Julie D5 years ago

The President has come out today and spoke in favor of supporting gay marriage! I knew he would eventually do so, it was just a matter of when. I am so proud of him for this! Yet another reason why I will be voting for our President for another 4 years!

Sara W.
Sara W5 years ago

I think Obama should support gay marriage because it is the right thing to do. Banning LGBT marriages is discrimination, plain and simple. People do not choose their sexuality. It is the same as asking people to choose to not be Hispanic or African American. And to deny people their right to make a loving commitment to one another with all the legal ramifications because they happen to not fit in with societies norms is wrong.