Don’t you ever feel that urge? As a heterosexual guy, I can’t demonstrate my support for marriage equality by marrying another man, but I could at least stick it to all these shrieking loons who compare gay marriage to bestiality by actually marrying a farm animal. I’ll just confirm their worst fears by making hot, sweaty love to a chicken.
Here’s the thing: President Obama’s declaration means absolutely nothing practically speaking, yet it remains of historic importance. He has been utterly disingenuous about his beliefs on the matter yet has made an incredibly brave leap forward for LGBT rights. Politics is great for paradoxes that way.
First of all, no one with a working brain cell buys that he has not actually believed that gay marriage was a no-duh issue for his entire political career. He answered the question truthfully in that 1996 questionnaire when he first ran for the Illinois state senate and then backpedaled when he realized it was a politically untenable position to have while seeking higher office (although, you must realize this puts Obama way, way ahead of the curve since no one was talking about full marriage equality in 1996).
There is no doubt in my mind that he lied about what he believed from that moment forward, and that’s totally what he should have done. While many supporters, gay and straight, found his squishy position pathetic, how much better is it to have a secret ally than a hostile enemy? We went fromGeorge W. Bush’s effort to enact a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage now and forever to the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the end of the Defense of Marriage Act, and the extension of partner benefits to federal employees. Obama has not just been the greatest president on the issue of LGBT rights—he’s been the only one.
And what he’s done now is invaluable, both politically and culturally.
First of all, keep in mind that he has made his announcement at great political risk. The same day this news broke, North Carolina—a state the Democrats desperately want to win in November—voted overwhelmingly to ban same-sex marriage. This move will hurt him electorally in must-win Rust Belt states, and if he loses the 2012 election, Monday morning quarterbacks will have to wonder if he shouldn’t have waited until after the presidential campaign to do this.
Politically, however, now no Democratic candidate for president will ever again be able to have any other position on the issue. The bullshit, middle of the road, third way, civil union nonsense is done (of course, I’ve counted myself as a supporter of civil unions only in the sense that if that’s all Middle America can swallow, it’s better than nothing). If you’re running for president, you will have to support marriage equality, and that view will filter down through the Democratic Party to the point where no one will be able to win a primary without voicing his or her full support.
From there, we are quickly approaching the point where Republicans will not be able to win statewide office in places like New York, California, Oregon, Washington, Vermont, etc. without supporting marriage equality. Sorry to state the obvious, but the last states to buy in will be the same states that fought and died to prolong slavery, that terrorized blacks to enforce Jim Crow, and that remain rife of social intolerance to this day. Perhaps before that, we will get a Supreme Court that is less concerned with the civil rights of corporations and which will recognize that if there’s anything “no-shit” in the Constitution, it’s the Equal Protection Clause, which should have allowed gays and lesbians to marry, oh, about the day after the Fourteenth Amendment passed in 1868.
Culturally, however, you can think whatever you want about “Will & Grace” or “Modern Family”, but there is a generation of children under the age of ten right now who will in all likelihood—as long as Mitt “It Wasn’t Queer-Bashing” Romney loses—never know a world in which their political leader thought a certain minority wasn’t entitled to same rights as everyone else.
I’ve said again and again, that we are witnessing the fastest sprint of a civil rights movement in our history. In 2004, I attended several rallies and protests against Ohio’s Issue 1, an amendment to the state constitution outlawing same-sex marriage that went on to become law. I remember thinking how woefully outgunned and overwhelmed our side of the debate seemed to be. To see how far this country has come on this issue in less than a decade is one of the reasons I find it so hard to be cynical. Every time I want to piss and moan about the state of everything, change comes along that you can just go ahead and believe in.