Fifteen years ago, Obama supported gay marriage, then he started “evolving” on the issue, and then yesterday he came out in support of gay marriage with a powerful statement that
At a certain point, I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.
Needless to say, this statement is incredibly important. As Richard Socarides wrote over at The New Yorker,
President Barack Obama’s announcement today that he fully supports marriage equality for gay and lesbian Americans is historic. It will certainly go down in record books with events like Stonewall as an important milestone in the equal-rights movement.
Whatever made the President change his mind, there is little doubt that coming out in favor of gay marriage is a political risk. How much of one remains to be seen, but the Right has already begun their assault with Fox Nation claiming Obama has “declared war on marriage” and Tony Perkins head of the Family Research Council saying
What everyone said was not going to be an issue in this election is now an issue. The president has made it an issue. This provides a very clear contrast between him and Mitt Romney. I think [Romney] may have been handed the key to support from social conservatives. Obama just turned up the heat and intensity.
So what Obama has done is, without question, brave and important. But should I have really woken up with a “smile on my face” (as the Obama campaign’s fund-raising message this morning suggested)?
I am afraid that when it comes to issues of love and marriage, there is rarely a smile as much as a look of puzzlement on my face. My inner cynic is always at war with my inner romantic and living with the two of them arguing inside my head can result in some seriously odd behavior on my part. On the door to my office is an announcement for an art opening with a rewriting of the Act Up slogan “Silence=Death” as “Marriage=Death.” Nearby is a postcard of Kate and William’s royal wedding. I am madly in love with my partner and I would marry her and yet she and I have both written extensively that marriage should not be the basis of our rights as citizens and that all families should be protected. The yin and yang of modern love hums along.
The tension here is not just personal, but political. There is a constant struggle between the fact that full citizenship in the U.S. is granted to those who are married (with over 2,000 federal rights and privileges) even as the majority of Americans are unmarried (and yet still, no doubt, mostly living in familial relationships and in need of those rights and privileges for their own loved ones). And this political tension can never be solved with individual decisions to wed or not.
No, instead what needs to happen is a political conversation about how to protect all Americans, married and unmarried alike. But that is unlikely to happen in such a highly polarized climate where we can only ever be for or against gay marriage. And so my inner romantic is winning out over my inner cynic and, as I think about Obama’s announcement, a smile is coming to my face.