President Obama now says he believes in the right of gay couples to be married. Is it a political calculation? Of course...
Did he take this position to improve his chances of being re-elected? No doubt...Is this an example of presidential leadership and courage? Absolutely not...Is it the right thing to do? YES
54% of Americans now believe same sex couples should be able to get married. Six states, and the District of Columbia, allow gay couples to marry. Over 70% of people under 35 believe its time to give same sex couples the same rights as straight couples. Last week, Vice President Biden and Education Secretary Arnie Duncan came out in favor, saying it was a simple matter of civil rights. They are right.
When the Constitution was proposed, many of the founders feared a tyranny of the majority. They worried, in a democracy, the majority could impose its will on minorities. They had already seen this in the Massachusetts Bay Colony where Puritans, who fled persecution for their religious beliefs to the New World, turned around and outlawed any religious belief but their own. They forced Roger Williams to leave and establish Rhode Island as an oasis of religious tolerance. Jefferson and Madison feared the power of state religions and tried to disestablish them in Virginia. The bill of rights was added to the Constitution to establish certain rights which the majority cannot take away unless the state can show a compelling interest as to why these protections can be abrogated.
No one argues laws against gay marriage are not discriminatory. They instead argue they have good reasons to justify ignoring the Constitution. It is acceptable to discriminate against same sex couples because the state has an interest in protecting the institution of marriage for a man and a woman. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney reiterated this exact position this week. The problem Mitt et.al. have is they cannot give a good enough reason why this institution must preserved as is thus justifying excluding a whole population of Americans from its benefits.
The Catholic Church argues marriage is a scared institution devoted to reproduction. Since sex between same sex partners cannot produce a child, it is sinful and immoral and cannot be sanctioned. The problem for the Church is they still allow couples to be married who have no intention of every having children, or who are sterile and unable to produce children. If the purpose of marriage is to reproduce, the church violates its own stance and opens itself to allegations of prejudice and bigotry.
There is not much steam left in the screed which says straight parents raise mentally balanced children, while gay parents could do great emotional harm to children raised in their homes. It should be remembered most gay people today were raised in straight households. It should further be remembered studies have now shown, loving parents, whether gay or not, are the key to raising healthy children. Thus, there is no compelling state reason to justify denying same sex couples due process and the freedom to wed.
Marriage is an economic contract which anyone should be able to enter into and benefit from. Marriage has huge economic benefits. Everything from tax rates to inheritance laws to end of life decisions are affected by whether one is married or not. Those Catholics or Mormons or evangelicals who wish to add a religious element to the equation are welcome. They can add their seal of approval after the state. However, religious prejudice or bigotry is not allowed to trump the concept of equal treatment and due process.
President Obama is trying to energize his constituency. His decision is certainly an attempt to rev up his youth base and make some clear distinctions between himself and Mitt. Obama will face some pushback from the African American community. (A memo has surfaced from Republican strategists about how to peal off African Americans from Obama over this issue and use it against him with Hispanics too) For reasons I don't understand, as a group who faced similar discrimination, including laws prohibiting them from marrying certain other ethnic groups, the African American community's antipathy towards homosexuals baffles me.
This controversy about marriage is a good example of why the terms liberal and conservative no longer are operative. President Obama's decision expands rights to a disenfranchised group. This is progress. Equal treatment and more freedom are ideas to be spread among all our citizens. Those who oppose same sex marriage, wish to regress to a different era. They wish to continue to discriminate based on personal bias and prejudice even though the constitution clearly prohibits such actions.
President Obama will not get a profile in courage award for his stance. The political calculations are clear. However, he reinforces a trend which is inexorable. Extension of full civil liberties to gay couples is inevitable. Obama deserves credit for stepping into a controversy during an election year. He deserves credit for doing what is right. He deserves credit for standing up for the rights of a minority and he deserves credit for ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell in the military and now supporting full enfranchisement for gay Americans.
Obama has drawn another clear line which differentiates the differences between him and Romney...differences which should make it clear which man represents progress and expanding the American dream.