ONTD Political

The president finally declares his support for gay marriage. Here's why he did it.
—By David Corn

President Barack Obama's evolution ended today, when he told ABC News one of the worst kept secrets in Washington: he's good with gay marriage.

For the past several days, the politerati have been abuzz over this matter, after Vice President Joe Biden appeared on Meet the Press and, in response to a question, said he was for marriage equality. An impassioned Biden declared he was "absolutely comfortable" with gay marriage. This detonated a media frenzy. The next day, reporters hurled questions at White House press secretary Jay Carney about the president's neither-for-nor-against-but-evolving position. The headline on a Washington Post piece by Dana Milbank described Biden's comment as a "gaffe" that was a "mess for the White House." Meanwhile, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, during a Monday interview, noted that he, too, favored gay marriage. Why have you not said so before? he was asked. No one had bother to inquire, Duncan replied.

Speculation exploded. Was the White House mounting an orchestrated campaign to pave the way for an Obama declaration of support for same-sex marriages? And if so, why? Gay and Democratic activists had been threatening to wage a platform fight at the presidential convention this summer over a pro-gay marriage plank. Was Obama now taking steps to avoid such a made-for-cable fuss?

In Washington, the first question always is, what's the political gain? But in this instance, despite all the hypothesizing, that was not obvious. Specific Obama constituencies could be expected to be heartened by this announcement: the gay rights community, fundraisers (one of six Obama bundlers are openly gay), and young voters. But same-sex marriage does not generally poll well among African-Americans and Latinos, two voting blocs Obama must rev up in November.

A recent Gallup poll found that half of Americans believe same-sex marriages ought to be recognized by law as valid. But how does this play in the swing states that will decide the election? On Tuesday, North Carolina voters (in a low turn-out affair) decisively passed a measure that would amend the state constitution to ban gay marriage, which is already illegal in the state. Is that an indication that Obama could suffer in this critical state—where the Democrats will hold their convention—for endorsing gay marriage? Six other swing states already have constitutional bands on gay marriage: Colorado, Florida, Nevada, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Four do not: Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Arizona. A poll in Arizona found voters split on the issue. In Iowa, a survey found only 38 percent backed a state constitutional amendment to prohibit gay marriage; 56 percent opposed the ban. (By the way, since 1998 voters have gone to the polls 32 times to vote on gay marriage—and have each time opposed it.)

There are multitude of ways to spin all this. Voters who care about same-sex marriage may not be influenced by Obama's decision. Those who favor gay marriage already knew—or suspected—Obama was with them; those against it probably already opposed Obama for (among other things) his support of other gay rights measures. Then again, perhaps this could provide social conservative voters not enthused about Mitt Romney with more cause to join the fray. Remember those evangelical mega-churches in Ohio that were crucial to George W. Bush's 2004 victory?

In any event, the most solid analysis of how Obama's decision will impact the election is likely this: who knows? Democratic sources close to the White House and the Obama campaign tell me that this certainly wasn't a carefully planned endeavor on the president's part. One well-informed Obama insider put it this way:

Biden created a swirl of new questions and the president doesn't like for people to be confused about where he stands...The politics is complicated, though. While people are more and more copacetic with marriage equality, it's not necessarily something they want the president spending his time on. So it isn't necessarily a slam dunk regardless of what he does. As always, between the politics, the voters, the media, and the president's closest supporters, there are a lot of needles to thread here.

Gay marriage, it seems, was a looming dilemma for the president. Biden's unplanned comments placed this challenge on the center stage, and the president and his aides decided now was the time to confront it, realizing the political consequences could be mixed. Obama may have just figured it was time to come out on gay marriage and then he'll take it from there.


Mods: I know I just submitted a post on this topic, but I thought the commentary and further links in this article made it worth posting.
lozbabie 9th-May-2012 11:27 pm (UTC)
So he's endorsed gay marriage but won't actually do anything?
moonshaz 10th-May-2012 12:18 am (UTC)
I think it's too soon to assume that he's not going to do anything. This statement is a start. It's only a start, but it IS a start.
redstar826 10th-May-2012 12:33 am (UTC)
I've been reading that he thinks the issue should be left to the states to decide. Seeing as how the majority of states have already banned it (many with constitutional amendments) I think it's a pretty legit question as to what he actually plans to do.
belleweather 10th-May-2012 12:39 am (UTC)
What exactly, within the bounds of the law, do you feel he should be doing but isn't? Because I'm pretty darn impressed with the whole DADT repeal + lack of defense for lawsuits regarding DOMA + Executive order allowing hospital visitation + changes to allow limited federal benefits w/in various federal agencies stuff. (Prior to the Obama administration legally recognized same-sex partners were literally given less rights than employees pets in the federal agency I work for.) It's a HELL of a lot more actual, tangible support than the GLBT community has had from any other sitting president.
lozbabie 10th-May-2012 01:20 am (UTC)
As posted by a different poster above he has stated he personally supports gay marriage but will leave it to states to decide. Which means that nothing has changed.

Also last I read wasn't the DoJ defending DOMA in court? Will he stop that?
belleweather 10th-May-2012 01:56 am (UTC)
The DOJ is not, and has not been defending DOMA in court for about 18 months. Maybe longer. Boehner (mis)appropriated money for congress to hire private attorneys to defend DOMA in court -- hiring attorneys is congress' legal prerogative. I'm not sure where we're at with that defense; last I heard the money appropriated was far, far insufficient to mount any actual legal challenge, not that there are really actual legal arguments to be made. But yeah, Obama is 100% not involved in supporting DOMA.

As to marriage being for the states to decide, Obama is supporting settled common law going back to the founding of the country. Setting restrictions on marriage (age limits, consanguinity limits, requirements, etc.) has ALWAYS been a power reserved to the states -- which is actually one of the strongest arguments against DOMA.(The federal government has always given full faith and credit to the actions of the states in the marriage arena and are treating LGBT marriages differently from any other kind of marriage action, which implicates equal treatment under the law) Despite the desires of some whiny folks who apparently slept through civics class, He would really, really NOT be doing the marriage equality a favor by suddenly trying to grab power to decide marriage issues for the Federal Government.
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