Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Obama, Marriage, & Leadership

This weekend, Vice President Joe Biden was on MSNBC’s Meet the Press, where he said that he has no problem with same-sex couples being allowed to marry under the law. To paraphrase the VP when he talked about another issue, this is a pretty big f***ing deal. His boss, President Barack Obama, is now surrounded by some very high-ranking people in his campaign/administration that are on record as being for marriage equality. There is the aforementioned Vice President Biden. Secretary of State and former rival Hilary Clinton gave a landmark speech on LGBT rights that was talked about around the world (though I don’t believe marriage equality was specifically mentioned). Also announcing his support for marriage equality in the last few days was Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Numerous national co-chairs for President Obama’s reelection campaign have not just said that they support marriage equality, but that this should be enshrined in the national party’s platform (by contrast, the Republican Party has support for the so-called Defense of Marriage Act in their national platform).

What is evident here is a failure to lead on this issue on the part of the President. It is clear that he is walking a very fine political line. With the economy being the focus of most Americans and politicians, the beginning of the general election (which will be a tight one), and various other circumstances, that is where all eyes are. The problem is that with the President’s open statement about "evolving" on the issue of marriage equality, he set himself atop a fence which he has been straddling for many months now. Whatever way he ends up taking, this seeming inability to make a public decision on this issue makes him look bad.

That said, no one on either side is truly fooled on where actually he stands on marriage equality. Being a Twitter follower of many prominent figures from the socially conservative set, I can tell you first hand that they know that when it comes to gay marriage, President Obama is not their friend, whether he formally comes out in favour of marriage equality or not. They know this based on the fact that when various states have had a statute or amendment banning marriage equality, the President has denounced it. On the other side, those who have paid attention know or presume that what the President is doing is making a primarily political calculation on whether to formally support marriage equality before or after the election (assuming he win reelection). Whichever choice is more likely to help him is most likely what he will choose.

The unfortunate effect of this political calculation is that President Obama will look like he is doing just that: playing politics. That would be one thing if we were “merely” talking about fossil fuels versus renewable energy, or tax policy, or something of that nature. However, what we are talking about is basic human rights. No one likes their rights, or who they are, being played with like a football.

In terms of the presidential race, President Obama is still miles and miles more progressive than Mitt Romney on the issue of marriage equality. Romney is on record as supporting a federal amendment banning marriage equality (he has sign a pledge to that affect), he has given money to the support California’s Proposition 8. President Obama, conversely, is against a federal marriage amendment, he has spoken against various states’ efforts to amend their constitutions to ban marriage equality, and has (at the very least) left the door open to support marriage equality in the near future. President Obama's lack of a formal position, however, will call his leadership into question from all sides, and at a time when he can ill-afford this. When voters are looking at candidates, they want someone who will be a leader. This issue and how it has been handled by President Obama will not him to look like a leader...unless he changes course.

No comments:

Post a Comment