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May 18. 2012


The loud clash over same-sex marriage:

Where the personal and the political meet

By Lisa Keen

Keen News Service

Washington, D.C.—It has been a dizzying week for same-sex marriage.   Consider this: The front cover of Newsweek magazine on Monday (May 14) carried a photograph of President Obama with the caption “The First Gay President.” The president appeared on a nationally televised group talk show to discuss his position. Republican presidential nominee-apparent Mitt Romney reiterated his opposition to allowing gays to marry at a speech before Jerry Falwell’s university. The Washington Post ran a well-sourced story reporting that, in high school, Romney had led an assault on a fellow student that many believed to be gay.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said May 10 that, because “the president’s in favor of it — I’m sure” a plank that supports the legal right of gays to marry will be part of the Democratic Party platform this year. Reid, a Mormon, told reporters that, while his “personal belief” is that marriage is between a man and a woman, he now believes “people should be able to marry whomever they want, and it’s no business of mine if two men or two women want to get married.”

Asked in a press conference to comment on the president’s remarks, House Speaker John Boehner said he believes marriage is between one man and one woman, but quickly ignored related questions and said the focus needs to be on the economy and jobs. And yet the Republican-dominated House passed an amendment to the Department of Justice appropriations bill the night after Obama’s ABC interview to “prohibit the use of funds to be used in contravention of the Defense of Marriage Act.” And the House Armed Services Committee on that same day passed an amendment to the defense authorization bill to ban “marriage or marriage-like ceremonies” between same-sex couples on American military bases.  These and other Congressional measures—including a bill to repeal DOMA—will serve as individual battlegrounds over same-sex marriage.     On The View May 14 (broadcast May 15) Barbara Walters repeatedly pressed President Obama whether he would personally fight to repeal DOMA and secure equal rights for gays through Congress. Obama sidestepped, saying simply that “Congress is clearly on notice that I think it’s a bad idea.”

The president explained that his administration had come to the conclusion that DOMA was unconstitutional and that he was troubled about the inequities in Social Security and estate taxes. But what really motivated him to make his remarks May 9, said Obama, was “knowing friends and family, people that I’d gotten to know who had these wonderful relationships.”

“And they’d say to me, ‘You know what: The words matter. So, even though you’re a strong supporter of civil unions, somehow it still says we’re different.’ And that particular set of conversations that I had is ultimately what led me to this conclusion.”

In an interview with Fox News Thursday (May 10), Romney suggested President Obama’s position in support of same-sex marriage is a political calculation.

“You don’t change your positions to try and win states, or certain subgroups of Americans,” said Romney. “You have the positions you have. And, as you know, for a long time, I think from the beginning of my political career, I made it very clear that I believe marriage should be a relationship between a man and a woman. I know other people have differing views, but that’s my view.”

When Fox News anchor Neil Cavuoto suggested there has been at least some confusion over Romney’s position, Romney thanked him for the opportunity to make it clear: He would prefer there be “a national standard that defines marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman.”

“That would then allow states to determine what rights would be provided for people of the same gender that wanted to have a relationship,” said Romney. “There could be domestic partnership benefits, for instance, where one state might decide to provide hospital visitation rights, another state might decide to provide that, as well as benefits of other kinds. States could have their own decisions with regard to the domestic partnership rights, but my preference would be to have a national standard for marriage and that marriage will be defined as being between a man and a woman.”

Cavuto noted that many gay people would consider it discriminatory “that a President Romney would etch in the Constitution something that discriminates against a large swathe of people in this country, gays. What do you say?”

“You know, we, as a society, take action which we believe strengthens the nation,” said Romney. “I happen to believe that the best setting for raising a child is where there’s the opportunity for a mom and a dad to be in the home. I know there are many circumstances where that is not possible—through death or divorce. I also know many gay couples are able to adopt children. That’s fine. But my preference is we encourage the marriage of a man and a woman and that we continue to define marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman.”

Cavuto also asked Romney whether he considers the push for marriage equality to be “sort of like the civil rights movement all over again”?

“I don’t see it in that light,” said Romney. “I believe my record as a person who has supported civil rights is strong and powerful. At the same time, I believe that marriage has been defined the same way for literally thousands of years, by virtually every civilization in history, and that marriage is literally, by its definition, a relationship between a man and a woman. And if two people of the same gender want to live together, want to have a loving relationship, and even want to adopt a child in my state — individuals of the same sex were able to adopt children— in my view, that’s something which people have the right to do. But to call that marriage, is, in my view, a departure from the real meaning of that word.”                  

A flurry of quick polls was inconclusive on whether President Obama will lose, gain, or break even politically in regards to stating his personal support for allowing gays to marry. A Pew Research Center poll released Monday (May 14) showed 52 percent indicated his support would have “no effect” on their vote in November, while 25 percent said it would make them less likely to vote for him, 19 percent said more likely, and four percent didn’t know. A CBS-New York Times poll showed 58 percent would not be affected by the president’s position; 25 percent were less likely to vote for him; 16 percent more likely; and one percent didn’t know.

“Asked if they had to decide if same-sex marriage should be legal,” noted a CBS news report on the poll, “51 percent said no, including 81 percent of Republicans, 25 percent of Democrats and 54 percent of independents. Forty-two percent said yes, including 13 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of Democrats and 43 percent of independents.”

Before President Obama’s ABC interview, a Gallup poll found 54 percent of Americans consider gay relationships “morally acceptable.” After the interview, 60 percent said Obama’s position would have no effect on their vote.

And an ABC-Washington Post poll found respondents evenly split in their reaction to President Obama’s remarks on same-sex marriage: 46 percent “favorable,” 47 percent “unfavorable.”

“The unfortunate part here,” said Democratic political commentator Krystal Ball, appearing on MSNBC Monday and commenting on what she believes will be the political fallout of Obama’s support for same-sex marriage, “is now the [Republicans are] trying to push this narrative that Obama is going to be crusading on gay rights issues. …That image on the Newsweek cover is the visual depiction of the Republican narrative.” And it was a dramatic image —a play on the moniker “First Black President” that bestowed on President Clinton by novelist Toni Morrison in the New Yorker magazine in 1998. The Newsweek cover, including a rainbow halo hovering above President Obama, was a provocative exaggeration of the thesis in an article by gay political writer Andrew Sullivan in praise of Obama’s announcement last week that he thinks gay couples should have the right to marry.

“To have the president of the United States affirm my humanity — and the humanity of all gay Americans — was,” wrote Sullivan, “unexpectedly, a watershed.”

Like for Sullivan, the reaction of many in the LGBT community to Obama’s statement went beyond trying to gauge the political impact.

Gay author Armistead Maupin, speaking to Weekend Edition Saturday on National Public Radio, said his reaction was more “something I felt in my heart,” than political.

“As a gay man who’s been an activist for almost 40 years now, it was an extraordinarily moving thing to hear an unequivocal statement to the effect that gay love was the equal to opposite sex attraction. Gay people are used to hearing something, you know, especially from Democrats some little nod toward ‘I’m with you folks’ but usually in some private dinner, never publicly, never without equivocation like this, so it was a big moment, whatever the reason for it, it was a big, big moment.”

Sullivan said the consequences of Obama’s affirmation “are simply impossible to judge.”

Maupin said he thinks the president’s remark, coming as they are “from the top, from the very top” of society, “will filter down, it can’t help but filter down.”       |





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