President Obama made a statement today on marriage equality. Some have given him grief for previous statements that his views on marriage equality are evolving. I get it. For a politician to talk about “evolving” views on something suggests lightly held convictions of Romney-esque malleability.
But, because of my own evolution of thinking on this subject, I completely understand the President. Back in 2010 when discussing Indiana’s marriage discrimination amendment, I said this:
I’ve described my progression before, but for those just tuning in: Growing up, I thought of myself as anti-gay, because I didn’t know any gay people. Or, more accurately, I didn’t know I knew any gay people. Turns out a non-trivial number of guys I knew growing up and in college were gay. (Sorry if I said or did anything to offend, gentlemen). Once I met a guy I new to be gay, being “anti-gay” quickly seemed silly. He was, in most respects, just like anyone else I knew, and it seemed awfully small of me to dislike him simply because of who he loved. But, from there, I probably only got as far as indifferent to gay issues. I wasn’t against them, but they weren’t important to me either.
Now, I’ve progressed to being affirmatively in favor of allowing gay marriage. There just isn’t any rational basis for opposing it. If your God tells you to work against gays, I guess that’s between you and him. But the State’s supposed interest in promoting procreation is just hogwash. If that were anything but a pretext, you’d see prohibitions on marriage by post-menopausal women and sterile men. Working from the presumption that sexual orientation is a birthright and not a “lifestyle choice,” denying gay people such a fundamental right for no good reason seems gratuitously mean.
The President’s statement today made me feel a little better about what happened in North Carolina yesterday. The primary voters of North Carolina decided they wanted a constitutional ban on marriage equality. One of my good friends from elementary school is gay. (We had a bit of a falling out in 6th grade fighting over a girl, amusingly enough). He is in a committed relationship with his significant other in North Carolina. That the people of North Carolina would rebuke my friend because of who he loves made me angry on a personal level. That the President of the United States would take a political risk by publicly expressing his personal opinion that “same-sex couples should be able to get married” helps diminish that anger somewhat. The President said:
“I had hesitated on gay marriage in part because I thought that civil unions would be sufficient,” Mr. Obama told Ms. Roberts. “I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people, the word marriage was something that invokes very powerful traditions and religious beliefs.”
But he added that “I’ve always been adamant that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly and equally.”
Politically, I don’t know how this plays. But it’s the right thing for him to do if that’s what he believes. I tend to think that the people who would withhold their votes from President Obama based on this position probably weren’t going to vote for him anyway. On the other hand, maybe I’m just letting my current views color how I perceive voting tendencies of people who hold my past views.
By the same token, this might have the potential to drive a bit of a wedge between libertarians and the younger conservatives on the one side and the older conservatives on the other side. A lot of the types of conservatives I talk to just don’t honestly seem to care about gay rights, pro or con. They aren’t marching in the streets demanding equality for gay people; but they seem to wish they could ignore the conservative wing that spends a lot of energy opposing gay rights. It creates a stumbling block when the younger conservatives want to talk about government staying out of peoples’ lives. If marriage equality becomes a prominent difference between the Republican and Democratic Parties; they might not be able to shrug off the issue as easily.