Widespread Rejoicing as President Obama Announces He's "Evolved" to Support Marriage Equality
It seems like everyone I know has been a-buzz today since President Obama announced his support for marriage equality today. To gay activists. it must feel like maniac-depression, following yesterday's landslide vote in North Carolina in favor of a stringent anti-marriage equality measure. But after years in which the President's avid gay supporters often felt betrayed and abandoned, it also seems like vindication, judging by the joyful messages posted online.
President Obama said,
Today, I was asked a direct question and gave a direct answer: I believe that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.
I've always believed that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly and equally. I was reluctant to use the term marriage because of the very powerful traditions it evokes. And I thought civil union laws that conferred legal rights upon gay and lesbian couples were a solution.
But over the course of several years I've talked to friends and family about this. I've thought about members of my staff in long-term, committed, same-sex relationships who are raising kids together. Through our efforts to end the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, I've gotten to know some of the gay and lesbian troops who are serving our country with honor and distinction.
What I've come to realize is that for loving, same-sex couples, the denial of marriage equality means that, in their eyes and the eyes of their children, they are still considered less than full citizens.
Even at my own dinner table, when I look at Sasha and Malia, who have friends whose parents are same-sex couples, I know it wouldn't dawn on them that their friends' parents should be treated differently.
So I decided it was time to affirm my personal belief that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.
I respect the beliefs of others, and the right of religious institutions to act in accordance with their own doctrines. But I believe that in the eyes of the law, all Americans should be treated equally. And where states enact same-sex marriage, no federal act should invalidate them.
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney emphasized the distance between them, reaffirming his opposition to marriage equality. In recent weeks, he's shown he discriminates not just in marriage, but in all aspects of life when he pushed out a gay foreign-policy advisor he'd hired — solely because he was gay and Romney was getting pressure from far-right bigots.
But the world is moving on and leaving Romney and his Ward Cleaver impression behind. Fewer people every day believe it's OK to disregard a job candidate's qualifications and slam the door on them solely because of their sexual orientation. And that group gets smaller with each generation. The attention given to a rash of suicides of bullied gay youngsters has opened a lot of eyes, even while the anti-gay minority tries to hold on to the past.
I was reading the Wikipedia entry for children's author Maurice Sendak who died yesterday — I did not know he was gay and lived with his partner of 50 years until the partner died in 2007. The entry included this quote, "All I wanted was to be straight so my parents could be happy. They never, never, never knew."
More and more people see the sadness behind those words and think how 50 years ago they are. And those people see those ancient attitudes as being unjust.
At times, I've felt like this was a fringe issue, ginned up by the right to distract from the bread-and-butter issues that affect us all. But looking at President Obama's position vs. Mitt Romney's today, it seems to me now to be emblematic of the difference between the world view of Democrats and Republicans and the vision each has for this country.
I've heard people gripe that Democrats don't have a clear message compared to Republicans — but they do. And this only makes it clearer. Democrats stand for fairness and opportunity for everybody. Republicans stand for hoarding opportunity, restricting it to only certain people who are already privileged and fit a certain limited profile. They want to choose the deserving, while Democrats are (usually) willing to open the doors and let the deserving choose themselves by their actions and their efforts.
There are those who think that moving into the light on this issue with only help President Obama (see this excellent column by Andrew Sullivan: http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2012/05/obama-lets-go-of-fear.ht...) and I agree. While there is a cadre of people who will choose to live in fear, I think more people are hungry for justice, for fairness, for generosity of spirit. I hope — and believe — they will prevail.