Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Balancing Act

I can see where the discussion over same-sex marriage is headed in the White House. At some point in the next few weeks or so, President Obama is finally going to say that he is now on the side of the angels of marriage equality, and that will, at last, be that.

It’s the Nuanced Anti-Climax, and while it has its place in theatre, it’s not something that really works all the time. After all, this is not now a huge deal; a majority of Americans — albeit a narrow one — are in favor of marriage equality. You can tell that the tide is shifting by the rising of the decibel level from the opponents like NOM and the whacky neighbors over at the American Family Association. The more they froth, the more they realize that they’re losing. All they have left is the laughably tragic tales of slippery slopes and men marrying goats, so instead of getting a reasonable discussion of the merits of “traditional” marriage, we’re getting out-takes from Hee Haw.

I can sort of get where President Obama is coming from in his reluctance to come right out and fully endorse marriage equality. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for his personal beliefs that he’s not fully on-board with it; not everyone who isn’t a raving homophobe is in favor of it, including some members of the gay community. Second, in the political calculus, he’s following the path of several presidents who had to be forced — albeit without too much struggle — to take a position on a controversial issue. For example, John F. Kennedy was noticeably tepid in his support for civil rights in the early 1960’s, leaving it to surrogates such as his brother Bobby to be the force behind the scenes. But Mr. Kennedy knew that he was dealing with a Democratic party that was still solid in the South; and Southern Democrats were among the most vocal civil rights opponents. (They all became Republicans after 1968.) He would have had to run for re-election in 1964 with their support, and he would not have had it if he had vocally supported the cause.

Barack Obama does not face such a solid bloc, but he does have a balancing act among voters in the Democratic Party who do embrace the traditional family values mantra, including a large portion of African-American and Latino voters. They may be on his side when it comes to economic justice and immigration, but the old-time religion, be it the A.M.E. or the Catholic church, are still pillars of the community.

If Mr. Obama is going to at long last be the voice of support for marriage equality, he has to do it in such a way that it is inclusive of everyone; gay and straight, religious and not. It has to be done in such a way that makes it sound as if it is the only reasonable way and that as president of all the people, we can all agree that equality is the most basic foundation of our society. Fortunately — or conveniently — for him, a lot of other people have been making that point for a very long time.