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This morning, I’m more than a little surprised and disturbed by the number of gay people I know who are writing President Obama’s political obituary over his public support of gay marriage. “He should have waited until after the election,” they say. “The Republicans are going to beat him over the head with this until November,” they say. “Don’t you realize how many people in this country hate us?”, they say. This, from people who have marched alongside me under the Rainbow Flag at Pride, at protests against gay-bashing, and sat next to me at the weddings of gay and lesbian couples. But I’m not ready to nail the coffin shut on Obama’s presidency–at least not for another four years–and neither should anyone else.
Was it a calculated risk for the President to come out in support of marriage equality? Yes, of course it was, especially given the touchy, polarizing nature of the national debate over LGBT rights. Was it “political suicide”? Not at all.
Of course, the Republicans, burdened as they are with a lackluster nominee-apparent, will use Obama’s position on gay marriage to galvanize their base and get their constituents to the polls in November. Yet think about it. If American voters choose their President solely on the issue of gay marriage, we as a people were in trouble long before President Obama said one word about it.
The Republicans’ morally indefensible efforts to keep LGBT Americans mired in second-class citizenship runs counter to the core principles upon which our Republic is founded. Moreover, gay marriage is not the only issue on which the Presidency turns, and while Obama’s support for equality is historically important, it’s not decisive in the upcoming election the way the economy, healthcare, and our foreign policy are.
At least, it shouldn’t be. Half the country, North Carolina’s orgy of hatred the other day notwithstanding, actually supports gay marriage. Romney’s wooden refusal to entertain the reality that gays and lesbians are the sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, friends, and relatives of most of the electorate, is a far more risky political position to take, than Obama’s stance on LGBT rights is. I think Obama, in making a public statement on gay rights, (as did his VP and Education secretary), is doing exactly what great Presidents do: he is making a principled, moral stand that, although it might bring political fallout, is based on the courage of his convictions. To do the morally, humanly correct thing, goes beyind what might be politically expedient at any given time. This is called LEADERSHIP.
In 1940, with the dark clouds of war looming over Europe, started by a horrifically evil tyrant bent on taking over the world, President Roosevelt was facing a Republican dark-horse candidate, Wendell Willkie, whose politics were in step with an isolationist electorate which did not want to send its children to fight and die in a European war. Roosevelt himself began the campaign with a pledge not to “send American solders to die in a foreign war.” But as the campaign progressed, Roosevelt’s position “evolved”, as the stark reality of the danger the world was facing became ever more ominous and apparent. Willkie tore FDR apart over Lend-Lease (the program under which the United Kingdom “borrowed” weapons and equipment from us in order to hold off Germany during the Battle of Britain in the fall of 1940), but FDR held firm–knowing that his course was the right thing to do. The voters sent him back to the White House two more times before he died. Now, I readily admit that gay marriage isn’t the same as looming world war, but the concept guiding both Presidents is the same.
Those who were against gay marriage won’t be voting for Obama anyway, especially given the President’s established record on LGBT rights to date–the repeal of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell, ensuring hospital visitation for gay couples, supporting the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, among other things–and the Democratic base is already voting for Obama even after all these accomplishments. Romney’s campaign might well pick up more votes on the issue of gay marriage, especially in the South and Midwest. But Romney runs the risk of becoming a one-issue candidate if he belabors Obama’s LGBT record.
In fact, I don’t believe it was “political suicide” at all, for Obama to support gay marriage. I think it will have the opposite effect. We look to our Presidents for strong moral leadership, and in endorsing marriage equality, Obama displayed a firm hand on the tiller, taking a principled stance despite the political dangers. This is the hallmark of a leader. This is what will get him re-elected.