Obama and Marriage Equality

Cindy Hill: President Barack Obama finally gave up his poorly-veiled attempt to avoid saying something definitive on the issue of marriage equality, and declared that “personally” he thinks same gender couples should be able to get married. A few days later, appearing on “The View,” he declared, “I want everyone treated fairly in this country.”

All well and good. It’s better that he said these things publicly than that he didn’t say them or said their opposite. And I’m not distressed that a politician would change his or her mind or evolve in his or her thinking about an issue. What troubles me is the question of whether or not this comprised a statement of genuine moral conviction which gives rise to action and change, or whether it was a disingenuous, sharply-calculated political maneuver. While I do make room for the possibility that it could be both, I can not join my many liberal friends who have leapt from hearing the statement to concluding that Obama is a quasi-angelic champion of GLBT rights and the new wave of freedom. I watched the video clip of the declaration over several times, and uttered the same words I did as I was watching the Arab Spring revolution in Egypt: Okay, so now what?

In saying that marriage regulation should be left to the states, Obama abdicated the moral and political duty that arises once one has recognized an injustice being perpetuated on a class of people. He stated that he hates to think that same-gender parents of his kids’ friends might not be allowed to marry–ignoring the fact that in many states, like my own Vermont, they are allowed to marry, at which point they are then promptly discriminated against and abused by the federal government of which Obama is the executive head. Compelled to file IRS returns as single when they are married, deprived of their spouse’s social security and veterans’ benefits, married same-gender couples are indeed treated unfairly, by the very agencies that Obama oversees as leader of the executive branch of government. I applaud his one step at correcting this injustice, that being the directive to the Justice Department to cease enforcing the don’t-ask-don’t-tell military policy. But one small step does not demonstrate that the President can walk the walk.

AKIE BERMISS: I take great personal comfort in the fact that Barack Obama has come out in clear, mistakable support of same-sex marriage.  Unlike many of my liberal friends, I don’t think that all the time up til now has been foot-dragging on the part of the administration.  I think, rather, that as with most of the things this administration does, it is something has been perfectly coordinated to be done at a time when it is more likely to be effective.

My worry for liberals is that we have absolutely no understanding of pragmatism.  For all our vaunted collective nerdiness, we are often an impatient and impractical bunch when it comes to setting policy.  When the question of DADT was in the picture a couple of years ago, we were all the same way.  Oh how we did shout that Obama was turning is back on the LGTB soldiers and their rights.  Why?  Because he didn’t simply abolish DADT with an Executive Order. When, instead, he had the Joint Chiefs come before Congress and all say that they were in favor of ending the practice, when he had them conduct a thorough study of the effects and effectiveness of DADT, and when they came back  and said it not only should but could be abolished: we did so through the legislature.

Its a masterful stroke and yet most people seem to have missed it.  Fully aware the DADT was horrible, Obama pushed for eradicating it in a way that will be very difficult to reverse or throw down.  And while he did come out and say he was against DADT he knew that in order to end it, he would have find a way to end it for good.

And so, indeed, Obama has been wishy washy on same-sex marriage.  He’s been against it but for Civil Unions or he’s been in the middle of an evolving idea.  Until recently he’d never come out and say, “same-sex should be legal” and that bothered me.  But I didn’t ever really doubt that he would work for the rights if the LGTB community.  Now we have him saying the words and, like Cindy, I have to ask myself: now what?

The federal government has nothing to do with weddings and/or marriage licenses.  As I understand it, marriage has always been a state-level commodity.  If I’m not mistaken, the Constitution is very clear on those things which the federal government regulates and those which are regulated by the states themselves.  So, after the glow has faded, one must ask oneself: what is the point of having the President come out for marriage equality?  Does it really help the struggle?  Will it force the states to adopt his way of thinking?  Legally?!  I think not.  Shall we once again champion the slipshod method where Presidents write laws by issuing executive orders?  Order easily rescinded by the next office-holder?

No, the work is — as it ever was — something that we, the people, must do.  For real progress to happen on marriage equality, we need to begin to boycott those states which have outlawed same-sex marriage.  If we take all of our marriage business to the states that allow same-sex marriage and leave the rest of the states to eat those losses, we might be able to force the hand our enemies.

One place I do see the federal government being integral is finding a way to addendum the constitution with something that somehow underscores the simple first princple that people are supposed to be created equal.  At least that’s what we think.  As far as I’m concerned, marriage equality shouldn’t even be an issue as the Constitution makes no specific reference to what marriage MUST be.  But the more I think about it as a classic American civil rights issue (not unlike slavery or women’s suffrage) the more I think that, despite the redundancy, we may need to make a new amendment that very clearly explains — to those of us who seem to have to trouble with it — that LGTB citizens are American citizens and they have due to them ALL the rights, privileges, and responsibilities that that brings.

Again, that’s not really something Obama can do.  But his vote of confidence may help to be a driving force behind such an action.  Not that it matters much at present — for now, we have activated the POTUS as a lodestone for this issue.  Federal or state-wise, it is now in play.  And Obama has picked a side.  And so too now, will all the rest of us.  Whether it makes sense… or no sense.

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