Visual source: Newseum
It’s been two days since Vice-President Biden did or did not endorse marriage equality (the White House has been aggressively walking back his statement). Since then, the narrative building around the issue isn’t one that will make Team Obama happy.
The debate is shifting away from what Biden did or did not say to what President Obama should say. For all of the stellar accomplishments on the part of equality by the Obama administration thus far, the insistence on coming thisclose to embracing marriage equality but refusing to move forward is creating problems for a campaign whose 2012 message is about, well, moving “forward” toward a better America.
The New York Times editorial board:
The Obama administration has taken some positive steps against antigay discrimination, such as repealing the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and ending the Justice Department’s legal defense of the Defense of Marriage Act, the unconstitutional law that bars federal recognition of legally performed same-sex unions.
In stark contrast to Mitt Romney, who has aligned himself with the most fervent opponents of same-sex marriage, Mr. Obama has come out against the proposed state constitutional amendment to bar same-sex marriages and civil unions that is going before voters in Tuesday’s primary election in North Carolina.
But, by failing to go the next step and actually say that he supports the freedom to marry as Mr. Biden does and as polls show nearly a majority of Americans do, Mr. Obama risks dampening the enthusiasm of allies without gaining the support of equality’s opponents. It’s not an unfamiliar place for this president to be, unfortunately.
Frank Bruni in The New York Times analyzes the election context as a possible reason as to why President Obama’s views are still, as the administration puts it, “evolving”:
[R]ight now, Obama could stir up a lot of counterproductive noise and passion with an emphatic position in favor of marriage equality. And while it’s the job of advocates to focus on one issue and amass their armies on a single front, it’s the job of those who govern to promote an array of concerns and serve multiple constituencies. To do any good in office, you have to be in office.
Obama has exhibited more concern for the equal rights of gays and lesbians than his predecessors did. He ended the military policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” He instructed the Justice Department not to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
He brags about this progress, and has a right to. But he shouldn’t expect those of us who support marriage equality to find the sound of that trumpeting so very musical. It’s a tentative, incremental bleat. And it’s especially unsatisfying from a president who’s such a moving, hopeful symbol of this country’s imperfect and incomplete journey toward full respect for all its citizens, no matter their gender, race, creed or sexual orientation.
Michael A. Memoli and David Lauter at The Los Angeles Times:
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, asked whether the president, like Biden, was comfortable with gays marrying, said Obama was comfortable with same-sex couples “being entitled to the same rights and the civil rights and civil liberties as other Americans.” He said he would leave the question of whether marriage is a civil liberty to “civil libertarians or lawyers.” [...]
Obama aides, mindful of how his presidency will be evaluated by history, regularly rebut questions about marriage with a checklist of ways the president has advanced gay rights. Among them: the elimination of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy barring gay service members from serving openly in the military, the Justice Department’s refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court and smaller measures aimed at strengthening legal rights for same-sex couples.[...]
Polls show overwhelming support among Democratic voters, but independent voters remain split, and the issue finds resistance among older voters in particular.”
In an era of ideologically consistent (and consistently polarized) parties, it is fanciful to think that Romney — whose current campaign has disavowed a pink flier that appeared during a 2002 Pride Weekend in Massachusetts, bearing Romney’s name and endorsing “equal rights” for “all citizens” — can buck his party on core issues. But standing up for the spokesman he had hired required only a minimal show of spine. Romney subsequently characterized [former spokesperson] Grenell as “very accomplished” — a genial compliment, but one that only underscored his cave-in.
This battle will ultimately end, and anyone with a passing familiarity with the American story knows how. We have entered the final stage, where opponents theatrically vow to maintain segregation, or its marital approximation, now and forever.
Marriage, like every successful social institution, changes with the times. When President Obama was born, interracial marriage was prohibited in much of the nation, and public support for it registered in the low single digits. Today, in roughly one-quarter of American marriages, wives earn more than their husbands, some of whom stay home to care for children. Such arrangements — including the 10 percent of marriages that are interracial — are no more “traditional” than gay marriages. So what?
Dana Milbank at The Washington Post:
Whatever Obama’s public position, there was little doubt in the briefing room Monday that the president supports gay marriage and that he would go public with this position after Election Day, when he no longer need fear losing independent voters. Carney, who had the unenviable position of trying to convince the press corps otherwise, arrived 35 minutes late for the job and found a feisty audience.
“I have no update on the president’s personal views,” he told the first questioner, Anne Gearan of the Associated Press. “He, as you know, said that his views on this were evolving.”
Tapper asked whether Obama was “still evolving” or whether he’s “just waiting for the proper time to drop it, likely after November.”
“It is as it was,” Carney said.
Meanwhile, former president Bill Clinton is campaigning against a law in North Carolina that would outlaw civil unions:
The amendment, also known as Amendment One, would make marriage the only domestic legal union that would be valid in the state. Opponents say the measure is unnecessary since North Carolina already has a statute in place banning gay marriage, and it could jeopardize domestic violence protections for women and affect health benefits for domestic partners. But backers say those fears are overblown. [...]
On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of North Carolina homes received an audio recording of Clinton encouraging people to vote against the amendment. In it, he raised the health care and domestic violence concerns, and also said it could hinder efforts to lure new business to the state.
“So the real effect of the law is not to keep the traditional definition of marriage, you’ve already done that,” Clinton says in the recording. “The real effect of the law will be to hurt families and drive away jobs. North Carolina can do better.”
And, on a final note:
[Caroline Kennedy] set to present the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award on Monday to former Iowa Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and justices David Baker and Michael Streit, all of whom were pushed off the bench in a 2010 retention vote that capped a contentious campaign. [...]
Ternus, Baker and Streit were among seven justices who unanimously decided in 2009 that an Iowa law restricting marriage to a man and a woman violated the state’s constitution. Conservative groups and other gay marriage foes spent about $ 1 million on a political campaign to oust the judges, who chose not to raise money or campaign themselves to avoid dragging the judiciary into politics.
“The three judges are interesting and courageous on many levels,” Kennedy told The Associated Press. “… Like many of the people who get this award, they don’t consider that they are doing anything particularly courageous, they just feel they’re doing what’s right, they’re doing their job.”