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Saturday, July 09, 2011

Why Obama Should Come Out for Marriage Equality

Here is the change you can believe in: President Barack Obama will most likely publicly support marriage for same-sex couples, and this declaration should take place prior to the 2012 election.

As you are undoubtedly aware, the President has wrestled with this issue for some time. His answers to specific questions have been tortured and calculated and to many marriage equality activists, unsatisfying. In fact, he has characterized his position even to this day as “evolving.”

“I think what you’re seeing is a profound recognition on the part of the American people that gays and lesbians and transgender persons are our brothers, our sisters, our children, our cousins, our friends, our co-workers, and that they’ve got to be treated like every other American,” Mr. Obama said at a recent news conference. “And I think that principle will win out.”

The President went on: “I think we’re moving in a direction of greater equality and — and I think that’s a good thing.”

This is surely a good sign that he’s moving in the right direction. Of course, he wasn’t as explicit during his election run in 2008 whereby political calculations were paramount. Then he declared his support for civil unions but told big-time pastor Rick Warren that marriage is between a man and a woman. Ugh!

But this coming election cycle, things will be different. Not only do I believe the President will declare his support, but such a decision will also benefit him in 2012. Here’s why:

Pro-gay record. It is no secret that President Obama has already compiled the most pro-gay record in the history of the U.S. He has appointed more LGBT people to his administration than all of the previous 43 presidents combined.

Obama spearheaded the final push to end the policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which was one of the top two on the LGBT activists’ wish list. He ensured the passage of a comprehensive hate crimes bill. And he ordered the Justice Department to cease defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as it is being litigated.

Therefore, supporting marriage equality would be the next logical step. He already congratulated New York on passing the marriage equality bill. You don’t applaud that kind of action unless you support it. Making a public pronouncement (a televised speech would be ideal) would not shock anyone. But it would make many Americans ecstatic.

Firm up the base. Backing marriage equality will help galvanize an already suspicious progressive wing of the Democratic Party. The overall enthusiasm level is likely to be less than it was in 2008 because after four years Obama is no longer the novelty he was when he launched his 2008 run.

Therefore, igniting a fire under the butts of the left wing will help to raise needed cash and attract enthusiastic volunteers. It doesn’t matter who the Republicans send out to challenge Obama; you must have a stoked, passionate army of supporters. He needs to do this so that the LGBT community returns to the Obama bandwagon in force.

Obama raised $750,000 from gay supporters at a recent fundraiser without a revelation of his evolved position. Imagine how the community will react when he does come out for marriage equality.

The center is the real target. While it is absolutely necessary to have the base in tow, to succeed again in such swing states as Ohio, Virginia, Florida, North Carolina, Indiana, Colorado and New Mexico, President Obama must attract the center—the independents and moderates who aren’t exactly liberal but are kind of scared of conservatives and particularly the influence of the tea party denizens.

Many of these folks aren’t social conservatives or homophobes; they have a libertarian streak, and stating his support for same-sex marriage should not deter them to a significant extent. Keep in mind that socially conservative white people aren’t planning to vote for Obama anyway. So why appease that group?

Recent polls have shown that a small majority of Americans support marriage equality. It should be safe now to take that dip into the pool. Says Evan Wolfson, founder and president of the organization Freedom to Marry: “The President has very little to lose but a lot to gain politically. The center of political gravity in this country has shifted, and the President is lagging behind. He needs to be with us.”

2012 is not 2004. When it was Bush vs. Kerry in 2004, the Democrats allowed the GOP to hijack the narrative of the campaign and effectively exploit the Massachusetts ruling that legalized same-sex marriage. It did so by driving a wedge within the Democratic Party and bolstering turnout among evangelical voters by placing “gay marriage” on the ballots of 11 states.

It’s an entirely different environment now. The scare tactics used by the Republicans that predicted society’s collapse and the destruction of the institution of marriage won’t wash this time around. Massachusetts has allowed same-sex couples to marry since 2004, and with all that hype and fear mongering, it still has the lowest divorce rate of any state.

Moreover, the younger generation had been more motivated to vote in 2008, and this important demographic is replacing the more conservative elders who have passed on.

Setting a trap. Regardless of whom Obama’s opponent is it is clear that if he supports same-sex marriage, it will be used against him. And that’s the bait. Since the economy and jobs are projected to be the highest priorities on the voters’ minds, any attempt by the GOP to bring discrimination against gay people into the discussion will be seen as a needless and tired distraction and a dodge from the issues that matter most.

President Obama was for same-sex marriage before he was against it. In 1996, as a candidate for the State Senate in Illinois, Obama responded to a questionnaire from a gay newspaper. "I favor legalizing same-sex marriages," Obama wrote.

The time is right for Obama to return to his 1996 position, and it will help him win in 2012.

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