When President Obama announced his support for gay marriage, America’s LGBT community was surprised, but not shocked. While the announcement may be political, it is still a major step forward for queer communities.
At the very least, the president’s support may pave the way for more states to adopt legislation to support same-sex marriage and queer rights. Currently, 30 states, including North Carolina and Texas, deny any sort of same-sex unions. Only seven states have legislation that confirms the rights of same-sex couples to marry, while four states create unions equivalent to marriage. There is no pending legislation in either the House or Senate for all states to recognize each other’s marriage laws.
For a political move, Obama’s announcement is historic, but not without complications. While the president has been a lifelong supporter of marriage equality, according to early interviews, and has ended the Clinton-era relic Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the move may be more in the interest of making likely Republican party nominee Mitt Romney move to the right. For his part, Romney has responded in kind, telling the evangelical Liberty University in a speech that he believes “marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman” — to loud applause.
Romney’s position is not the position of the majority of Americans. Approximately 49 percent of independent voters support same-sex marriage or other equivalents, according to a Gallup Poll from May 2011. This was a 10 percent change from the previous year.
The real question is whether or not this will help Obama win swing states like Florida or Iowa. And if independent moderates in those states are like independents found in other states, the answer will be yes.
Obama’s position is in the interest of swaying voters in New Mexico, Arizona and Virginia — young states with politically vocal and rapidly changing demographics. Supporting gay marriage cuts to the heart of these states. While Obama may lose the South, that’s probably something he can afford, as the last Democrat presidential candidate to win the South was Jimmy Carter in 1976.
Obama is clearing up a long-standing issue with this announcement. While Obama’s more religious base may wane in supporting him in the coming election, clearing up his opinion allows him to present himself as a decisive leader. Romney should consider stealing a page from Obama’s playbook.
Unfortunately, Obama did not support any national legislation overriding the 30 states that do not perform or recognize same-sex marriage. Nor did he make any mention for the Supreme Court to override state constitutional laws like Proposition 8.
Now that Obama has announced support for same-sex marriage, it would be wise to consider supporting marriage equality at the national level to speed up its implementation. There are too many legally married couples located in states that deny rights, waiting for the legal recognition their union deserves.
We may consider Obama’s support for gay marriage to be akin to presidents Kennedy’s and Johnson’s support for civil rights. But without definite action on behalf of the president or Congress, the most shocking part of the announcement may not be in its substance, but in the president’s lack of action.
Let’s not call Obama America’s “gay president” like Newsweek did — not before any national legislation has been announced. The president should set his sights on protecting marriage nationally. Doing nothing only works for so long.