Monday, May 14, 2012

Four observations on Obama's announcement ...

Last week, President Obama announced to the world his support for same-sex marriages. While many able politicians debate this issue, and the concept of whether same-sex marriages should be permitted, I would like to offer observations about that announcement.

1. The decision to announce support for same-sex marriage was forced upon the president. Politically speaking, the more practical time for Obama to publicly back same-sex marriages would have been closer to Election Day in November.

The presumptive Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, will not support same-sex marriage under any circumstances, lest he anger his conservative base. Obama would have liked to have made this announcement months later to energize his liberal base in the home stretch of the campaign.

Obama was forced to make a statement after Vice President Joe Biden made remarks in NBC's "Meet the Press" claiming he was "absolutely comfortable" with gay marriage. Less than a day after Biden's interview, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made a similar statement. With two significant members of the administration publicly supporting gay marriage, Obama had no choice but to take a stance.

Some conservative analysts believe Biden and Duncan were attempting to shift the nation's focus away from the struggling economy. Frankly, I think they give Team Obama far too much credit for being clever. Biden has a history of verbal gaffes that only Dan Quayle could truly appreciate.

Privately, I would even suggest that Obama should be furious with his two subordinates. Policy positions from the executive branch are top-down decisions. The president creates and announces the direction of the executive branch, and cabinet members may privately object or voice differing opinions, but are expected not to publicly contradict the president or take a stance on an issue the president has yet to address. That is tantamount to usurping executive authority.

The electorate never votes for the bottom of the ticket, nor do they expect the Secretary of Education to dictate policy. Don't be surprised to see Duncan not invited back if Obama wins in November.

2. The issue of marriage is far more important than political pundits are willing to admit. One can never downplay the significant of social issues in society. Many citizens are struggling economically, but people have well defined, intense stances on gay marriage.

Moreover, same-sex marriage is only one battle in a larger culture war. This war deals with morality. Conservatives believe in the constancy of morality, while liberals tend to see morality as relative to time and circumstance.

Humans, particularly Americans, are sensitive to the notion that their behavior is inherently wrong. When liberals classify those opposed to gay marriage as bigoted or intolerant, they might as well tell people their most deeply held beliefs about how people ought to act as wrong. One can see how frustrating that would be.

Using the same standard, when conservatives claim the moral high ground and express hateful dissent against same-sex marriage, they provoke a segment of society who believe they are fighting for their equality.

Our cultural beliefs about morality can often be connected to religion, and sometimes to justify our own behavior. Either way, morality cuts to the core.

3. Obama politically benefits from his announcement. Though the president would have preferred to make this announcement later, his campaign has been bolstered, given a new sense of life. The GOP has been hammering at the lack of a speedy economic recovery and this type of major announcement from the president has rallied a liberal voting bloc who have been waiting for Obama to take such a bold position for nearly four years.

That energy from liberals has translated into a financial windfall for the president's campaign funding. Donations to the campaign have spiked dramatically since the president 'came out' (no pun intended). Hollywood actor George Clooney organized a fundraiser for Obama that charged $40,000 per person. Though exact figures haven't been released, it's estimated the event brought in more than $15 million for the campaign.

Today, the president was in New York City at another event garnering support, a fundraiser co-hosted by by Ricky Martin, the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) Leadership Council and the Futuro Fund at the Rubin Museum of Art. Tickets were $5,000 apiece, with a crowd estimated around 200.

4. The battle over same-sex marriage is just heating up. President Obama and many liberals falsely believe the acceptance of gay marriage is a 'generational thing' that will fade away quickly.

While it is true that older Americans are less accepting of homosexuality as a lifestyle, this hardly means the issue is settled. Conservative views on homosexuality are still strongly endorsed in many different regions of the United States. These portions of the nation are not likely to yield on the issue.

Even in states such as California, where many liberal strongholds exist, the debate is far from settled. In 2008, Californians voted for 'Proposition 8', which amended the state constitution to prevent same-sex marriage by over half a million votes. Those who opposed the measure are fighting the matter through litigation (see: Perry v. Brown) that will soon be argued in the United States Supreme Court. If gay marriage hasn't taken root in California, it's unlikely the issue will gain traction in the rest of America in the near future.

Even if the Supreme Court sides with supporters of gay marriage, one need only look at the issue of abortion to see that issue is still being actively debated and fought as a policy issue. Even though Roe v. Wade was decided nearly 40 years ago, policy changes have occurred that have limited a woman's 'right to choose.' What reason do we have to believe gay marriage would be any less controversial in the next century?

Obama's proclamation also is meaningless in terms of legislation on gay marriage. To pass any legislation, Democrats would need to hold the White House, regain the House and obtain a supermajority in Senate. Any bill attempting to permit gay marriage or repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) would be blocked. The Republican controlled House would never let that measure leave a committee and in the Senate, it would surely be filibustered.

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