ONTD Political

Obama faces pressure over same-sex marriage

9:25 pm - 04/10/2012
Obama faces pressure over same-sex marriage

As the Democratic Party considers adding support for the issue to its official platform, the president is urged to give his blessing.

By Michael A. Memoli, Washington Bureau

April 9, 2012, 6:42 p.m.

WASHINGTON — President Obama, who has fended off questions about his position on same-sex marriage for nearly a year and a half by saying his views are "evolving," faces increasing pressure within his party as momentum builds to declare support for marriage equality in the party's official platform.

Often derided as windy (frequently) and nonbinding (always), platforms nonetheless can play a crucial role in shaping a political party. Republican and Democratic platform debates in the 1980s crystallized the partisan divide over abortion. Earlier, the Democratic Party platform debate in 1948 marked an opening triumph of the civil rights era.

Gay rights groups and their allies believe this year's platform can play a similar role for their movement.

That puts Obama in an awkward spot. He's asking gay rights supporters for votes and money — he is scheduled to headline a fundraiser with gay supporters Tuesday in Florida — without committing himself on an issue of paramount concern.

At the same time, his allies have appeared to be prodding him to embrace, or at least not to block, language that would explicitly commit the party to support "the freedom to marry."

Last week, four former Democratic National Committee chairmen issued a statement in support of openly endorsing gay marriage. They noted that nearly two dozen Democratic senators, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and tens of thousands of party activists already backed the idea.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who will chair the Democratic National Convention, said last month that he supported a marriage equality plank because "it's basic to who we are."

"I don't think the government should be in that business of denying people the fundamental right to marry," Villaraigosa said at a Washington press breakfast.

Obama's endorsement isn't needed for the party to adopt a gay marriage plank, officials note, but with a high-profile issue on which feelings run high on all sides, staying neutral could be difficult.

Backers of the platform plank argue that full support for same-sex marriage could motivate Democratic constituencies and potentially appeal to independents. Given Obama's backing for gays being able to serve openly in the military and his administration's steps to provide federal benefits to gay couples, a further shift would do little to rally opponents, they say.

"The president has already taken so many steps in the direction of freedom to marry that he has a lot to gain and very little to lose in completing his journey," said Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, one of the principal groups backing the platform language. "This is where the party is. This is its vision for the future. … And it's where the president ought to be."

But some political advisors argue that an election-year epiphany on the issue would be seen as simple political opportunism at a time Obama's campaign is eager to highlight principled decisiveness. And gay marriage remains controversial among at least one major constituency the president needs: African American voters. Pastors of black churches, for example, have led the effort for a referendum in Maryland to overturn the state's new law allowing same-sex marriage.

Democratic officials have sought to buy time, noting that the official platform process has not begun. The approximately 180 members of the platform committee will be in place by June. A 15-member platform drafting committee could be appointed by the Democratic National Committee at any point.

Obama has taken several stands that have pleased supporters of gay rights. In December 2010, he signed a repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, something he now touts regularly at campaign events as a promise kept. Two months later, the Justice Department announced it would not support the Defense of Marriage Act in court, saying the federal law that bars benefits to gay couples even if they live in a state that recognizes them as married was unconstitutional.

Campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt cited those stands, among others, in describing why Obama's record on gay rights stood "in stark contrast to Mitt Romney's." But LaBolt avoided taking a stand on the platform, saying gay marriage was one of many issues that would be considered.

Wolfson and other gay rights supporters criticize Obama for failing to take the final step. His "lack of full clarity and authenticity gives opponents an opening," Wolfson said. In New Jersey, for example, when Republican Gov. Chris Christie vetoed legislation to make the state the ninth to legalize same-sex marriage, he parried criticism from Democrats by arguing he had the same position as Obama.

Gay rights groups want the platform to say the party "supports the full inclusion of all families in the life of our nation … including the freedom to marry."

As recently as 2000, the platform made no mention of same-sex marriage, simply saying that the party supported "the full inclusion of gay and lesbian families in the life of the nation." In 2004, the platform mentioned marriage, but said it "has been defined at the state level for 200 years, and we believe it should continue to be defined there." By 2008, the platform declared the party's opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act.

Obama's declaration of his own changing view came in October 2010, during a sit-down with left-leaning bloggers.

"Attitudes evolve, including mine. And I think that it is an issue that I wrestle with and think about because I have a whole host of friends who are in gay partnerships," Obama said in response to a question from Joe Sudbay, who writes for AmericaBlog.

As the president noted that it was "pretty clear where the trend lines are going" on the issue, Sudbay interjected, "The arc of history," paraphrasing the Rev.Martin Luther King Jr."The arc of history," Obama responded.

More than 500 days later, Sudbay is still waiting for more.

"It might have made sense for him in October 2010, but it's not plausible anymore," he said of Obama's formulation. "It feels like a political calculation, and I think it's the wrong political calculation."


P.S. While I'm here, am I the only one who feels we should have a tag for "same-sex marriage" and/or "marriage equality"--either in place of or in addition to "gay marriage"? I'm sure "gay marriage" was perfectly appropos when the tag was created, but at this point in time, it no longer feels quite right to me. (Here's a source that gives what I think is a good rationale for using "same-sex marriage" rather than "gay marriage," in case anyone is interested: http://civilliberty.about.com/od/gendersexuality/qt/gay_same_sex.htm)
13chapters 11th-Apr-2012 06:25 am (UTC)
I don't think that will happen, all the liberals I know are pissed the fuck off by the grossness of the republican campaign.

*fingers crossed*
circumambulate 11th-Apr-2012 06:30 am (UTC)
never understimate the power of Democrats to fuck themselves...
13chapters 11th-Apr-2012 06:36 am (UTC)
sadly accurate.
etherealtsuki 11th-Apr-2012 08:52 am (UTC)
Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory was ONTD_Po's tag line for a spell.
nonnycat 11th-Apr-2012 12:54 pm (UTC)
Considering the number of people I have seen here that have said they aren't going to vote for Obama in November, and these are people who are reading in detail the shit the Repubs are trying to pull...... yeah.
bushy_brow 11th-Apr-2012 02:47 pm (UTC)
crossfire 11th-Apr-2012 03:57 pm (UTC)
Yes. I know a number of people who aren't going to vote for Obama because he's not ~progressive enough.
nonnycat 11th-Apr-2012 04:03 pm (UTC)
It drives me batty. Sure, he's not as progressive as some might like (myself included). But, two things there. One, he's always been moderate on some issues. Two, he kinda freaking wants to get re-elected. Despite what a lot of progressives would like to believe, it wasn't the progressive vote alone that got him elected; it was that his stances were attractive to a lot of moderate voters, and that's a pretty sizable stance of the population to ignore.

If he's going to do anything radically progressive, I'm pretty damn sure that doing it right in the middle of a first term in a hostile environment isn't the brightest time to do it. -_-
mirhanda 11th-Apr-2012 04:09 pm (UTC)
I'm afraid most people will have forgotten it all by the time November rolls around.
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