And finally he did it.

The NY Times says Obama’s support for “gay marriage” was a strong statement.

It seems good and important, and I just wish the president had not said this:

The president stressed the tension he felt between the desire to treat people equally and respect for those whose religious beliefs lead them to oppose same-sex marriage.

“The thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the golden rule — you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated,” he said. “And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids and that’s what motivates me as president.”

I’m glad equality won out; I’m not so happy there was a contest.

What do you think?

14 thoughts on “And finally he did it.

  1. This makes Obama, without a doubt, the best president ever on gay rights, but a gigantic margin. Admittedly, the competition wasn’t stiff, and history is making itself strongly felt, but it still is a amazingly wonderful thing. (Note that Obama’s administration has been quite substantially good thus far, albeit with more than a little pushing from gay rights activists.)

    Something to cherish as the struggle continues.

  2. I’m really not impressed that Obama (1) took three years to say something like this, (2) still framed this as an issue of personal beliefs that had to be balanced with not upsetting people who wanted to uphold arbitrary discrimination for the sake of tradition, and (3) that this isn’t accompanied (as far as I’ve seen) by a stronger political stance towards LGBTQ rights.

    I mean, I’m glad he said it; that he said anything. But I’m also really concerned that the overwhelming response is “Yay let’s give cookies to Obama for expressing basic human decency” and not “Finally. Okay now let’s put our money where our mouth is.”

    I mean, the very fact that the administration keeps talking about how they “stopped defending DOMA” and not about how “DOMA is unconstitutional in spirit, goes against basic American values, and may even be one step towards theocratic rule” is just another huge reminder that we don’t have a liberal party in America. We have a conservative party and we have a moderate party that is fine with the conservative party setting the tone and scope of many important social debates.

    /end rant

  3. If Obama wants to have a remote chance at being reelected, he has to frame his statements like this. It’s called politics.

  4. Hi Stacey.

    I think you’re underestimating the substantive contributions the Obama administration has made to the cause of LQBTQ rights and equality. Andrew Tobias put together a list of Obama administration accomplishments.

    While it always could be better, I don’t think they’ve just been “good in comparison” to the craptacular records of past presidents, but “damn good” in principle.

    Obama’s statement was not a radically leading move, but it was not a pure post facto move (as the NC vote shows). There is some political risk involved (as well as political risk if he hadn’t…again, kudos to gay activists who are working at every level toward a juster society; it’s an inspiring movement). It is also a tangible move forward.

    I like Glenn Greenwald’s take (and Greenwald can hardly be considered to be in the tank for Obama).

  5. Thanks, Bijan, that’s an important list. It is impressive, I think.

  6. Anon grad student: I’m not sure I agree. I would have thought there were lots of ways in which he could indicate the significance of the anti-gay-marriage people’s perspective with invoking this surely bad idea that people’s religious views might decide legal issues in the US.

  7. I’m sorry, I missed where he invoked this bad idea? Is it that it’s up to the states? But, it’s almost surely is, at least in the first instance. Marriage always has been. DOMA is a very weird (and nasty) exception and even then, it doesn’t mandate marriage or even interfere with individual state’s management of marriage. It “only” blocks compulsory reciprocal recognition of marriages between states (and a bunch of nasty federal stuff that Obama has circumvented in a variety of ways). That’s unbelievably nasty (boo Clinton for signing it), but marriage recognition itself cannot straightforwardly be mandated by the feds, even if we had to votes to do it.

    I don’t think he’s making a “wisdom of the bigots” argument only a “The president doesn’t have much power here” one.

  8. Obama was probably being politically smart in framing his new position as he did, but as a constitutional law scholar, he surely knew his comments made no legal sense. As the New York Times editorial notes:

    “We have one major point of disagreement with Mr. Obama: his support for the concept of states deciding this issue on their own. That position effectively restricts the right to marry to the 20 states that have not adopted the kind of constitutional prohibitions North Carolina voters approved on Tuesday.”

    “Mr. Obama should remember that, in 1967, the Supreme Court said no state could prohibit mixed-race marriages because “marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man.’ ” Those rights are too precious and too fragile to be left up to the whim of states and the tearing winds of modern partisan politics.”

    “A federal judge in California, supported by an appellate court panel, has ruled that a ban on same-sex marriage violates the 14th Amendment right to equal protection. That decision will probably reach the Supreme Court, and, when it does, we expect Mr. Obama, if he is still president, will take the final step in his evolutionary process and direct the Justice Department to support that ruling and urge the court to uphold equality in every state. ”


  9. @Bijan Parsia: Thanks for the link.

    I’ve been following a few transgender rights blogs this year, and from that perspective, Obama’s LGBTQ record really isn’t that impressive. There’s still no protection against discrimination for servicemen and women who are transgendered. Obama also hasn’t (I don’t think) weighed in the legislation that has been popping up in a few states where legislators are supporting protection against discrimination for people who are transgendered….well, sorta. For some reason people still get really touchy when it comes to bathrooms and high school kids freely expressing themselves.

    But even if we want to bracket the TQ part of this, Obama’s statement is still underwhelming, even if it is indeed “historic.” He’s still playing into the skewed debate of either (a) “you think states have a right to discriminate based on tradition” or (b) “you’re personally cool with it if two men or women hold hands in front of you.” No one (mainstream politician-wise) has even considered putting (c) on the table in a long time, which would be something like: The constitution protects civil rights from the arbitrary traditions of the states and attitudes of the majority. So states should NOT get to decide who gets to be part of the marriage club, since this affects things like your federal taxes and your rights to inheritance and visitation across state lines. Civil rights are not up to the states to parcel out as they please, and marriage equality is a civil rights issue.

    And lastly, I saw another article say that Obama had already publicly supported marriage equality when he was running for the senate. However, I can’t find any sources for that–mostly because everyone is talking about the current event.

    So this isn’t evolution. This is a moderate position. This is a compromise. If this is also politically wise and practical, okay. But let’s be accurate about what it is and isn’t.

    It’s a weak moral stance that comes off as strong in the current American political climate. At the end of the day, it’s still an insult to say to the people you love, “I personally love you for who you are, but if other people want to be systematic jerkfaces to you because of it, I’m not going to try to stop them, or even really criticize them for it. Because while I respect you, I also respect their desire to knock you down a peg.”

    Also, if this matters at all, I’m planning on voting for Obama.

  10. Hi Stacey,

    I presumed that you were an Obama voter…the alternative, esp. from a LGBTQ perspective is rather unappealing.

    I agree that there’s tons more that Obama (or our society) could do. I also agree that a lot of the good done has come from gay rights activists pressuring the administration.

    So I do strive for accuracy. And yes, if our yardstick is what we think is right, then Obama falls far short. (Though, a lot of the fail is not plausibly in his control.) For a US president, however, the record is pretty amazing. Compared to the Clinton administration, it’s super amazing. I’m happy to point to the fails (now that DADT is gone, I’d love to seem some action on transgender servicefolks). But the fails do not eliminate the real, tangible gains such as:

    7. Banned job discrimination based on gender identity throughout the Federal government (the nation’s largest employer)
    14. Issued guidance to assist tenants denied housing on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and banned LGBT discrimination in all HUD-assisting housing and HUD-assisted loans
    31 Extended the gender-based employment discrimination protections of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to transgender employees
    5. Appointed the first ever transgender DNC member
    11. Named open transgender appointees (the first President ever to do so)
    18. Produced U.S. Census Bureau PSAs featuring gay, lesbian, and transgender spokespersons
    29. Hosted first-ever White House transgender policy meeting

    (Just focusing on the more transcentric ones.)

    Yes, more please! Much more!

    His whole public position on marriage has been annoying (and, to my mind, unlikely to be useful politically). But his rhetorical stance as of yesterday was much better than a week ago and I have hopes that it will get better still. And the weaknesses of yesterday’s talk doesn’t undermine the real things that he’s done over the past few years. Obviously, no one whose rights have been trampling “owes” Obama anything, by any means, much less cookies. But I think a realistic assessment is that by the standards of US presidents (and US powerful people) he’s making a big difference and with pushing could make more. A lot of those things in that list make a material difference in the quality of people’s lives. That’s worth something, in my book.

  11. Here’s a post with a bunch of interesting links about the strategies available to the administration. That led me to this other post with the following points:

    …Instead, Obama’s position now is three-fold: (1) he personally supports same-sex marriage; (2) he believes as a policy matter that state, and not federal, law should define marriages, as it always has been in this country; and (3) he believes that there are federal constitutional limitations on those state decisions.

    It is true that the administration has not tidily wrapped those strands together. Doing so, by filing an amicus brief in a state marriage lawsuit like the challenge against California’s Proposition 8 would make this point clear to all.

    But, even in the absence of such a public declaration, lawyers working on and judges considering these cases already have acknowledged the importance of the DOJ position on DOMA in state-law cases. The day that the DOJ decision was announced in February 2011, lawyers for the plaintiffs challenging Proposition 8 told the judge that the DOJ’s decision represented a “material,” or significant, development.

    As the lawyers then wrote, “The conclusion of the United States that heightened scrutiny applies to classifications based on sexual orientation is unquestionably correct. Proposition 8 cannot survive the requirements of heightened scrutiny because its invidious discrimination against gay men and lesbians could not conceivably further an important government interest.”

    So, even here the administration is not doing the most they could do (i.e., file an amicus brief). However, what they have done is helping, and helping in significant ways.

  12. There are plenty of things to not like about Obama’s statement, and some of the folks above cover those pretty well. What jumped out to me is this: Obama goes to great, great lengths, before he even announces his support for gay marriage, to distinguish the “good gays” from the “bad gays.” He advances the sort of obnoxious “American-as-apple-pie-and-Derek-Jeter” image of homosexuality often advanced by people like Andrew Sullivan.

    It’s pretty easy to read off of the text of Obama’s remarks. He thinks the “good gays” are in committed, monogamous relationships. They’re in the military. They’re middle-class. They want to get married to their one, life-long partner. They love kids and want kids of their own. Obama thinks the “bad gays” are non-monogamous or have multiple sexual partners, do not want kids, and are not patriotic.

    I’ll grant that Obama had to frame this interview for political reasons. But he could have done that without putting down people who don’t fit his image of what queers are supposed to look like and do.

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