Written for the Equality Hawaii blog on May 21, 2011
The other day I saw an article from On Top Magazine suggesting the President will support Gay Marriage.” After glancing at the article, I posted this on Facebook:
Good for him… Still, I find the timing a bit suspect (shortly after the launch of his reelection campaign) and while this is a promising development, people shouldn’t take him at his word during the campaign. Supporters of marriage need to CONTINUOUSLY PUSH Obama on this issue. We’re definitely winning the fight and the tide is turning and this is reflected in Obama’s “evolution,” but we mustn’t rest on our laurels….
I’ve been thinking about this more and just went back to take a second look at the short article. Obama’s support isn’t explicit in the article. In fact, his position could easily be described as nondescript;
When Obama told the crowd that it would take more than one term “for us to finish everything we need to do,” someone shouted “gay marriage!”
“Our work is not finished,” Obama responded.
While I guess I take that as a promising position, I haven’t seen anything in the President’s actions or speech to suggest what the Senator from New York seems to state as fact; in the next year the President’s position on marriage will “evolve” to one of support.
Let’s take a look at this statement and see if we can determine what the likelihood is that will actually happen.
On the one hand, polls now suggest a majority of Americans now support gay marriage. There is no denying this is fantastic news, even if I (we?) never had any doubt the day would finally come. On the surface, this news would seem to imply that the President is “free and clear” to announce his full-throated support for this civil rights issue. However, the details of the poll potentially reveal a large rock under which Obama can hide out, if he chooses to do so.
The poll I looked at, commissioned by ABC News and the Washington Post, shows the issue is still hugely divisive, with as many people “strongly supportive” as there are “strongly opposed.” What’s more, while support for same-sex marriage is up over 60% among young people, only 33% of seniors are supportive. What’s important about this is the unfortunate reality that seniors vote at a much higher rate than people under 30. While both percentages have seen huge gains from five years ago, this alone, at least to me, doesn’t provide clear political cover during what will be a potentially bloody election season.
I think the timing suggested by Senator Gillibrand is also telling. In 2008, Obama managed to attain mass appeal and nearly universal support from progressives. 2012, I predict, will see Obama in a much more difficult position to garner that same level of support. There is certainly a vocal, power, and well-funded group that will organize hard against him. And I doubt progressives will rally behind him as they once did. While most will likely vote for him, they’ll probably be far less likely to campaign for him or contribute to his campaign. So, more so than in 2008, Obama I think will have to rely on moderates and independents to fuel his campaign and reelection.
So , that Obama will announce his support for same-sex marriage could, on the one hand, embolden support from the GLBT community and progressives, such an announcement will only add more fuel to an already raging fire of opposition. Privately, I suspect he is very much supportive of same-sex marriage, but in standard political fashion, the issue’s effect on his reelection will certainly drive his decision-making, potentially at least well into his second term.
All of this isn’t to say I’m not supportive of same-sex marriage. I am. It is an issue, starting with civil unions, that I have worked hard on and will continue to do so. Instead, what I’m saying, is that people shouldn’t rush too quickly to the television to await the news, nor carry too hugh the Obama 2012 banner. Now, maybe more than ever, we need to continue to push him on this issue. Progressives took him for granted in 2008 and have been kicking themselves ever since. The GLBT community should be careful not to make the same mistake.