Jerame Davis

How Obama's 'Evolution' on Marriage May Help Us

Filed By Jerame Davis | June 21, 2011 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: Barack Obama, marriage equality

Darwin_fish.jpgHave we stopped to consider how Obama's "evolution" on marriage has benefitted us in media and public consciousness? By having this process of "evolving" on marriage, the media has kept a spotlight on the marriage debate in a way they likely would not have if he'd just kept his mouth shut or if he'd just come out in support of marriage and been done.

We know that most people don't sit around every day thinking about same-sex marriage or any other LGBT issues. With Obama's position on marriage still up in the air, every time something on the ground changes, you can be sure a question about the President's position on marriage equality will come up in a White House press briefing. This gives the people who are sitting on the fence the space to think, as well as someone they can relate to in the process - the President of the United States, no less. This is not a small thing.

I'm not saying this isn't frustrating and just a little silly, but I am saying that I don't think it hurts our cause much, if at all. The President has declared DOMA unconstitutional and directed his Justice Department to stop defending the law. On a panel at Netroots Nation this past week, Camilla Taylor from Lambda Legal told the gathered audience not to underestimate the importance of this move by the Administration. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) reiterated this point later in the discussion.

Also at Netroots Nation this past week, the issue of marriage equality made national news when White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer was questioned about a survey Obama filled out in 1996 in which he expressed support for same-sex marriage. Pfeiffer gave a rather non-sensical answer claiming that someone else filled out the survey and/or that Obama wasn't clear on the distinction between same-sex marriage and civil unions.

Again, this keeps the story alive and front and center. The bumbling of Pfeiffer opened the opportunity for our LGBT media White House correspondents Chris Geidner and Chris Johnson to bring up the topic at a White House press briefing and continuing to make it a national story. If Obama was already on record with his position on marriage, Pfeiffer would never have been asked about the survey and we wouldn't have had multiple news cycles where same-sex marriage was the topic of discussion.

If Obama had come out in favor of marriage equality during the 2008 campaign, it would've been used as a wedge issue to bash him repeatedly about the head. So, in addition to "death panels" and questions about his heritage, Sarah Palin would have been able to drag LGBT people into the debate to show how this radical Muslim foreign-born unknown man wants to kill your grandma and redefine marriage. Would that have helped us more?

At what point after his election would it have been good to switch his position? After stating he supported civil unions repeatedly, a lot of people would feel duped if he got elected and then immediately reversed himself on marriage equality. Obama has little choice but to go through an "evolution" process in order to come out for marriage equality lest he be accused of a bait-and-switch.

And let's look at polling. Since Obama has taken office, polling on support for same-sex marriage hasn't gone down, it's gone up - dramatically. For the first time in history, we are seeing majority support for same-sex marriage nationwide on a consistent basis. And since Obama first said he was "evolving" on marriage in December of 2010, we've shifted from a majority opposed to same-sex marriage to a majority supportive of marriage equality. Where is the harm?

There is no indication this is part of some grand Machiavellian plan, but that doesn't mean that perhaps in their bumbling, the Administration may have stumbled onto something that's doing us more good than we are giving credit. There has certainly been mis-management of the media and the LGBT community around the issue, to some extent, but it's not as if this whole process is seriously hurting our cause.
In fact, it may be helping.

Full disclosure: I work for National Stonewall Democrats. The opinions expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent those of my employer. (img src: public domain)

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Where is the harm??? Really???? You are asking that??? The president's stance of marriage equality has been used as a weapon constantly by our opposition. How many times have we heard I have the same position as the president. It was used against it in the Prop 8 vote with the opposition using his God in the mix quote.
As the highest ranking African-American official in our government he holds a lot of sway among African-American voters. By him coming out and unequivacily supporting marriage equality he would have a lot of sway. So no I am not buying this is a good thing. In fact the WH put out a statement he thinks it is a state issue another nail in the coffin since we know states like Alabama and Mississippi will never pass equality. I am sick of people making excuses for the president or saying what he is doing is actually good


I didn't say Obama's stance on marriage helps us - I said that his evolution process may help us. There's a huge difference there. His stance on marriage will eventually change, we all know this. The point is that this very public process has had a lot of very good side effects that we are overlooking as a community because we are feeling slighted.

I don't disagree with you that Obama coming out for marriage equality would be a significant boon - I just think that having this process happen in the way that it has is helping other people move along toward supporting marriage as well.

Just because the right wing says they're matching the president's stance doesn't mean they are and it doesn't mean that people are buying it.

No it actually hurts us as I said in my first post. His foot dragging in regards to marriage equality is used as a weapon. The president is going to GLBT fundraiser on Thursday a state in all likelihood we are going to lose on marriage equality this week. I am sorry but his evolving is hurting us plain and simple. It killed us here in MD. I have no doubt that if he hadn't pulled this bull about evolving and instead said I support marriage equality the marriage equality bill would have passed. The African-American delegates who caved to the pressure from the AA churches could have pointed to the president and said I am aligned with the president. No his lack of a backbone and waffling is doing great damage not helping us.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | June 21, 2011 6:40 PM

As Joe Sudbay at AmericablogGay says, Evolve Already!.

Obama's pretense of evolving like his fake, vague 2008 campaign statements, which some took as promises, to gull the gullible until after the next election.

As for now his silence on the down to the wire fight in New York is actively harming our chances there. People kind of notice that every time there's a fight he clams up. New York, Maryland, Maine, etc.

Is it possible he's afraid of offending bigots? And are those bigots the leaders of the catholic, mormon, and southern baptist cults? (African American cults are less powerful than the big three bigot cults by an order of magnitude. They may be vocal but their voice is small by comparison.)

Everything Obama's done about same sex marriage, with the sole exception of his decision to end his two year long campaign using the DoJ to defend Clinton's DOMA in the courts vile, bigots language and concepts has been to our detriment. Everything.

"His stance on marriage will eventually change, we all know this. No, we don't know that. Thats raw speculation. If he does change it'll mean he's desperate for votes, having betrayed everyone but Goldman Sachs and is writing off the christian bigot vote.

If you want same-legal-sex marriage to become a referendum on the president, go ahead, just be cognizant that he is the most pro-trans and probably most pro cis-GLB president ever, provided legislative leverage on the Sheppard Act and DADT, and is helping by the DOMA non-defense to re-institute full faith and credit.

Come on you can do better than that. You mean the hate crime law that has not been used once since passed for LGB and especially T violence. And let's talk about DADT, Obama wanted to push the repeal off until this year. The only reason DADT is where it is is because of people like Nancy Pelosi. Obama did little to get this past. As for DOMA the Justice Department only objects to one section of DOMA and has continued to defend it in other cases. Let's get our facts straight before we give him credit he isn't do.

Agree with you on DADT and the President's failure to step up to the plate, Tim, but you give too much credit to Nancy Pelosi by saying "The only reason DADT is where it is is because of people like Nancy Pelosi." Yes, she was the Speaker and put it to the top of the agenda, but only at the very, very end of the legislative cycle, and that only because of enormous pressure put on her from people around the country who were ready to revolt unless something got done. She and President Obama deserve the same amount of credit for creeping along at a snail's pace. Still, all's well that ends well. We got DADT repeal. Oh wait, we didn't yet? Never mind then.

No surgical requirement for passports.

No discrimination on basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in federal hiring.

The most high-profile openly trans appointee ever.

Directing federal employers to provide same-legal-sex couples a widened range of benefits.

Seems that, in the absence of a functional and co-operative congress, he's done more or less what he can.

I'm not saying he's great, but I am saying he's the best of a bad lot, and a lot less hypocritical than some committee chairs with the portfolio in their hot little hands that I could mention.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | June 22, 2011 12:21 AM

The list of things Obama and the Democrats have 'done for us' is piddling, secondary and transient. Except the Easter eggs - those were a real treat.

The hate crimes law is misdirected. If it enacted harsh penalties including jail time and confiscatory financial penalties for cult and political leaders who denigrate us, describe us as sinners who need punishing and otherwise promote violence it'd have some substance. But it doesn't - it's predicated on the idea that tidy record keeping and jailing a few thugs will settle things instead of being aimed squarely at the bigots who validate, direct and galvanize the thugs.

Repealing Democrat Bill Clintons DADT won't end military violence, discrimination and violence. It just won't be legal and sanctioned. It won't go away any more than the epidemic of rape and violence against women will go away and they've been working on that for decades.

Here's a link to a list of what GLBT groups wanted Obama to do in 2008 - Read it and weep. And weep for that fact the Democrats and Republicans have ignored ENDA for well over a decade that they show no intention of repealing Democrat Bill Clintons DOMA.

Add to that Obama's deliberate maintenance of high levels of unemployment and low wages, his union busting, the fact that his administration offers the banksters bailouts instead of bail, his refusal to help the states to avoid draconian cuts in social services for our communities (and everyone) and you have a President with the worst economic record since Hoover and the worst war record since Nixon, and you want us to vote for him because he gives us Easter eggs... ?

It's gonna be a bumpy ride until Tuesday, November 6th, 2012 and when that day arrives we should vote for socialist or left candidates, againstDemocrat and Republican candidates or just join the 1/3 to 1/2 of the electorate who just sit out.

"His stance on marriage will eventually change, we all know this."

Well, probably ... but what if it changes the minute he becomes a private citizen again on some Inauguration afternoon in January 2017?

Won't do us a damn bit of good then ... he might as well be Laura Bush supporting marriage equality ...

AJ, I would argue that his position on marriage isn't as important as a pro-equality Congress. We don't have anything close to that at this time. We don't need Obama to be pro-marriage to overturn DOMA, yet we don't have enough votes for that and the president HAS advocated for such a bill. So, what good is a pro-marriage president without a pro-marriage Congress?

I want him to come out for marriage equality too, but I just don't see that it's worth the rending of garments and gnashing of teeth that's actually happening.

Finally, I'd argue that if we gave him a pro-equality Congress that sent him a marriage equality bill, he'd sign it.

You want the president to come out for marriage? Give him an environment where he can do it. Otherwise, it's all just hot air.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | June 22, 2011 12:23 PM

Democrats controlled the Congress with super majorities for most of 2009 and 2010 and refused to enact ENDA, repeal DOMA or a federal marriage equality bill.

Supporting Democrats is as much a dead end as supporting Republicans.

A technicality: Congress can repeal DOMA and replace it with something better, but Congress probably cannot pass a "marriage equality bill" -- that would precipitate "state's rights" resistance that would most likely just complicate things. (Of course, they can cut off this funding and that funding to states that don't have marriage equality, but I just don't see that happening in this version of the cosmos.)

But your point that pro-equality representation -- in both Congress and in state legislatures, I would add -- is the key to the whole issue is well-taken.

Actually I disagree. His stance is very important because it helps to sway public opinion. Again the president has much power and sway than you give him credit for. I have no doubt his support would have swayed the vote here in MD and maybe in RI.

You can say the president could've swayed MD all you want, but I think you'll find few people who were engaged in the legislative work who'd actually agree with you. The president has been opposed to every marriage amendment that's passed since his election (and even the ones before) and that opinion didn't matter a hill of beans in those fights either.

People have this notion in their heads that a president has way more sway than he does. If that were the case, why the hell was it so hard to pass healthcare? Why did we have to give up the public option? You can't have it both ways.

We need a pro-equality Congress to do anything about marriage. Having a president who is pro-marriage doesn't do much more than make us feel good and give us a talking point. This process of evolving is swaying far more people than if he just said he was pro-marriage and was done.

Jerame, I think this is insightful and correct. The president is doing a pretty splendid job on this issue, though of course we still have got to keep pushing him.

Absolutely we have to keep pushing him, but bashing him is what I think needs to stop.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | June 22, 2011 12:49 PM

Criticism of Obama myriad betrayals of working people, our own communities, the environment, the fight to save the lives of GI's and civilians killed in his six (and counting) wars to steal the oil, land and resources of weaker nations is not bashing.

• Gay bashing is what Obama did when he bellowed 'gawd's in the mix' and torpedoed the battle for same sex marriage in California, Florida and Arizona in 2008.

• Gay bashing is what Obama did when he defended Democrat Bill Clintons DADT and DOMA in court for two years using vile bigoted language and concepts.

• Gay bashing is what Obama does every time he sticks his head in the sand when same sex marriage is mentioned.

• Gay bashing is what Obama and Hillary Clinton are doing to antiwar-GLBT hero PFC Bradley Manning.

• Union bashing is what he did to UAW workers forcing them to accept lower wages, 'out-sourcing' to scab companies and a long term no strike pledge.

• Union bashing is what Obama did when he refused to prosecute the managers and owners of BP and Massey energy for murdering oil rig workers and miners and for refusing to clamp down on their long records of confirmed safety regs.

You're confusing the victims and the victimizer. Obama is not getting bashed, he bashing us. Over and over. 30 million people who mistakenly voted for Obama refused to make the same mistake twice and repudiated Obama's bashing in the 2010 elections. The unions, finally fed up, are threatening to cut Democrats off at the knees, refusing to contribute funds and volunteers.

As other have speculated, I think Obama's "evolving" is a good political acting job. I suspect that privately he has always been OK with gay marriage. But knowing that gay marriage is not an issue he is willing to go to the political mat over, he gets to "evolve" over his potential eight-year window based on the political and cultural winds.

Luckily, the country is evolving forward, and thus so is he.

Unfortunately, too much of his "leadership" is of this type.

I can't say I'm satisfied at this point with yet another a bunch of stories in the media wondering whether the President thinks we're to be considered normal. Still, I suppose there are more important things in the world to think about. We'll just have to get over ourselves, I suppose, and make the best of it.

Exactly! Little things like equal protection and all that stuff...we are such whiny people, expecting the same rights as everyone else.

Tina, there's nothing wrong with expecting the same rights. There IS something wrong with stomping our feet and tossing our curls every time we don't get our way. That's how 2 year olds convince their parents to give them candy, not how adults get negotiations done.

Tina (IL) | June 22, 2011 2:45 PM

why thank you jerame for enlightening me. so, exactly where in my post did you see anything about 2 year olds...or candy?

Did I say you were? Looks like I was expressing that 2 year olds throw fits when they don't get their way, not that you were ever referencing them or candy. You seemed to be being flip when you said "...we are such whiny people, expecting the same rights as everyone else."

I assumed with that response you were throwing in with the "how dare we ask for equality" crowd that seems to think that because they aren't getting what they want right now, the only proper response is to throw a fit. If that's not the case, please accept my apology.

Tina (IL) | June 22, 2011 3:27 PM

Jerame, since you were replying to my comment, I assumed you were...which is why it appeared under my comment. My response to the comment above mine was in the vein of...we aren't asking for special rights, just the same rights...which I don't think is a lot to ask. Yes, we should dare to ask for equality. Was that throwing a fit? If making a comment is throwing a fit, there are more fits here than all the health clubs in the world! I'm not going to glitter people or chain myself to fences (although I don't judge those who do), but I do think demanding equality is important. Do you agree?

The other thing to consider is if we want him to endorse marriage equality before the election- we better damn be ready to have his back in the election.

I have no doubt that commenters on here will be crying too little too late and that he's pandering, etc. etc.

Well you think its bad now. Think what it would be like if we have a sitting President who comes out for marriage equality and then loses the election. NOM and such will have a field day.

I'm amazed at the community sometimes. We are maybe 5% of the electorate- but we act as if our issues are the only issues that matter. There are plenty of reasons to not be pleased with the President- but for me, the LGBT stuff is the least of my concerns. He's done a kick-ass job on that stuff for me. Now the two wars and cozying up to wall street- well that gets my blood boiling.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | June 22, 2011 7:31 PM

'If', and that's a BIG if, Obama supports same sex marriage that will be, as many of us have said 'too little too late and that he's pandering'.

Many commentators talk as if the GLBT movements and communities have no particular reason to exist beyond being a fish pond for Democrats or Republicans to trawl for votes in.

We exist as a reaction to the oppression of Democrats and Republicans and the fact that they're infested with religious bigots like Obama. (Whether he's always been a bigot, as his press secretary claimed at NN or was converted to bigotry by the need to pander is unimportant. In any case he's a bigot.

We don't owe Obama or his Republican opponent, whomever it will be, a damn thing for simply coming out for equality and it's very unlikely either will do so. They're both and equally our enemies and in the big picture it matters not at all which one wins or loses.