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Obama Endorses Same-Sex Marriage, the Defining Issue of Our Time

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Endorsing gay marriage unequivocally, President Obama has ceased “evolving” and delivered an important social issue into the masticating jaws of 2012’s cutthroat political campaigns. We should recognize two things about this.obama

First, it’s a political master-stroke. Energizing a big chunk of his base while likely “turning off” very few, Obama has distinguished himself markedly from his anti-gay-marriage Republican opponent, Mitt Romney. And he’s done this at exactly the right time, just when the main campaign is starting to gear up, as millions of Americans who took little interest in the primaries are starting to pay attention, and just as the pundits were settling into an easy assumption that all voters cared about this time around was the economy. Easing into his announcement after similar statements by Joe Biden and Arne Duncan, the President and his campaign team seem to have orchestrated this most carefully.

Second, to use a hackneyed but in this case accurate phrase, the President has put himself on the right side of history. Gay marriage is the defining civil rights issue of our time. It’s true that while a number of states have explicitly legalized same-sex marriage, 30 others have forbidden it in their constitutions. But while this might look like an imbalance, in the United States the bend has always historically gone towards affirming rather than restricting civil rights. When a minority and its supporters rise up to demand equal rights, and when the cause is fundamentally just, all the old-thinkers and reactionary pundits and politicians in the country can’t hold the line against it indefinitely.

This doesn’t mean the end of anti-gay prejudice, of course – not now, and maybe not ever. The legal and societal victories of the 20th-century Civil Rights movement did not end racial prejudice and discrimination, which continue in some walks of life even in the Obama Age. No one knows what lies ahead – federal court cases? slow decades of state-by-state acceptance? violence? But today’s announcement by the President has served notice on the forces of discrimination – for that’s what they are, even when cloaked in religious or moralistic affirmations, and even when entirely sincere and well-meaning: As the great philosopher MC Hammer once said, You can’t touch this. And ultimately, you can’t stop it.

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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is a Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he visits every park in New York City. And by night he's a part-time working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.
  • I have a strong suspicion that Obama has supported marriage equality all along, so in that light his failure to speak out before now has a hint of cowardice about it. That said, it was the right thing to do and he should be commended for taking a stand.

    It was calculated though. He risked losing a sizeable chunk of support by continuing to oppose gay marriage, and the one block of Democratic supporters who will be pissed off about it – conservative Christian African-Americans – aren’t going to not vote for him just over that.

  • (BTW, I don’t know this McHammer. Is he a fictional Scottish private eye of the hardboiled school who, after the grand tradition of his countrymen, philosophizes in his spare time?)

  • John Lake

    The Obama administration has specifically called attention to the evolution that takes place within society, and the role of the government in adapting to change. It is unlikely that any thoughtful person in twenty-first century America would deny basic rights to couples of whatever combination. Yes, this is a defining moment; the world is polarizing and approaching a breaking point as Muslims and Christians and Jews with differing views must share the planet. The Muslim community still seems to embrace standards from the distant past. There is some question whether this is hypocrisy, or deeply held belief. It seems odd that Americans are on the one hand moving to an Evangelical resurgence, while the pragmatic among us are searching for a solid system to espouse. The media might take the blame for the accelerated change. Had we not allowed our children to watch “Mr. Rogers” change his shoes for five or six minutes every morning, this whole sordid matter might have been avoided.

  • Hard as this is to believe, I knew Fred Rogers, John; he’s from Pittsburgh where I grew up and was an ordained Presbyterian Minister.

    When our minister went on vacation, he would actually come and stand in for him and Fred was a very nice man.

    Our high school choir won a state competition and and before we performed for the governor and went on a statewide tour, we got to perform on Joe Negri’s talent show on Channel 13 WQED (he is also known as “handyman Negri” the guy that was always demonstrating musical instruments, and his show is taped next to Fred’s, so I actually got to walk through Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.

    His politics were quite liberal for his time and when I wanted to go into the Presbyterian seminary, he happened to be visiting our church when I was discussing it with our reverend.

    He told me I’d lead a hard road as a gay teen, but didn’t discourage me. Actually between Anita Bryant and Jerry Falwell, I gave up early.

    John, I respect you, but don’t speak ill of ones you don’t know.

    As for Obama, he is taking advantage of the voter’s short memory by doing this now, instead of near November. People will remember him for allowing gays to serve openly in the military more than this, and with many soldiers coming home having served with gays and somehow never got molested in the showers, or had their heads shot off because some queer was trying to feel him up in the heat of battle, I’m sure more and more military families will respect Obama for his stand than reject him.

    Also older soldiers from World War II have stories of lonely nights with straight army “buddies” that would curl Rick Santorum and Pat Robertson’s hair. It is one thing to talk the hate, but when you’ve experienced a gay man as a soldier/friend that just shot a sniper that was trying to kill you, or has just treated you for an injury in a field hospital, you get a whole new perspective… whether you like it or not.

    Nearly everyone in America knows or has a gay relative, coworker or neighbor, whether they want to admit it or not too,

    The point being that gays don’t match the horrible degenerate monstors that the religious right paint them/us as and more and more they’re making fools of themselves for running their mouths off about something they know nothing about, and the public is coming to the realzation the priests they’re listening to resemble “The Emporer that has no clothes.”

    What I find really fascinatting is that Democratic scandals all seem to be about men having affairs with women, while Republican scandals are mostly about a gay congressman or senator.

    Romney was exposed as a hypocrit. He hired an openly gay spokesman/advisor for his campaign that he liked and respected, and then almost immediately fired him after the far-right faction of the GOP started having shit-fits.

    The majority of the people of this country don’t go to church more than once a month… if that, but they can’t seem to get the time to vote, where on the other hand the GOP ships in rabid right wing teabaggers in in loaded church busses.

    Hell, my local voting place is IN a church!

    The business owners, who are mostly republican around here in the midwest. The biggest complaint is that they can’t get out of work to go vote, and by the time they finish their shift, they are too tired to face the lines at the polls.

    it sucks, but it’s true.

    Just for fun I looked for a right biased source and found this…

    …from the Christian Science Monitor

    …[Romney] faced an internal issue this month when his openly gay national security spokesman, Richard Grenell, resigned after his support for gay marriage drew intense criticism from conservatives.

    Grenell, who served as spokesman for then-U.N. Ambassador John Bolton during the Bush administration, said in a statement that Obama is on the “the right side of history,” though he suggested the president is playing politics with civil rights.

    A new Associated Press-GfK poll shows independent voters trust Obama over Romney to handle social issues “such as abortion and same-sex marriage,” with 39 percent favoring Obama and 22 percent favoring Romney. A majority of voters trust Obama over Romney in every age group except senior citizens.

  • John Lake

    Re: Mr. Rogers: I was merely pointing out that Rogers was a high profile role model and icon at a time when mores were less open. I do feel he had strong influence on children growing up at that time. Is this widening of social possibilities for the better or for the worse — who is to say?

  • I grew up 3000 miles away from any television set on which Mr Rogers might have been pontificating, but as I understand it, his show placed great emphasis on neighbourliness.

    And I would have thought that a principal attribute of a good neighbour was in knowing the limits of one’s business, and in particular being well aware that one of those limits was the bedroom door.

  • Neighbourliness indeed. Well said, Dr. D.

  • How could the widening of social possibilities be worse?

  • Jordan Richardson

    What the hell does any of this have to do with Mr. Rogers?

  • Clavos

    That would depend on how widely they are widened, EB.

    What NAMBLA might perceive as OK might not sit well with more conservative types.

  • Clavos

    The majority of the people of this country don’t go to church more than once a month

    Even that’s too often.

  • Yup. Waste of a perfectly good Sunday morning.

  • Re #9… see #3 Jordan last sentence

  • Cannonshop

    And I see that I have some common ground with the President, after all…

    Why shouldn’t Gay people get to experience the joys of Divorce proceedings?

  • “I see that I have some common ground with the President, after all…

    It’s… it’s… it’s the apocolypse!

  • roger nowosielski

    Come on, Cannon. Gays are immune to the usual travails of the human heart.

    They have transcended such foolishness and surely must live in the Kingdom.

  • roger nowosielski

    I see you’re not biting, Mr. Gardner.

    Good for you!

  • Why shouldn’t Gay people get to experience the joys of Divorce proceedings?

    Oh, but they do, Cannon.

    They’ve been doing so for at least three-quarters of a century.

  • Roger, I think Jet saves the biting for Saturday nights. I know that’s how it works in my house.

    Clavos, I must have missed that episode of Mr. Rogers (though King Friday XIII did seem a bit odd), but once all adults get treated equally, then I’ll worry about the slippery slope that leads to NAMBLA’s desires.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Re #9… see #3 Jordan last sentence

    I restate my #9, this time with more confusion and another question mark.

  • Igor

    For anyone who is unaware of it, here’s the young Mitt Romney gay bashing highschool report from the Washington Post: WaPo.

    By Jason Horowitz, Published: May 10 | Updated: Friday, May 11, 11:00 AM

    BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. Mitt Romney returned from a three-week spring break in 1965 to resume his studies as a high school senior at the prestigious Cranbrook School. Back on the handsome campus, studded with Tudor brick buildings and manicured fields, he spotted something he thought did not belong at a school where the boys wore ties and carried briefcases. John Lauber, a soft-spoken new student one year behind Romney, was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality. Now he was walking around the all-boys school with bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye, and Romney wasn’t having it.

    “He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” an incensed Romney told Matthew Friedemann, his close friend in the Stevens Hall dorm, according to Friedemann’s recollection. Mitt, the teenage son of Michigan Gov. George Romney, kept complaining about Lauber’s look, Friedemann recalled.

    A few days later, Friedemann entered Stevens Hall off the school’s collegiate quad to find Romney marching out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber’s hair. Friedemann followed them to a nearby room where they came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.

    The incident was recalled similarly by five students, who gave their accounts independently of one another. Four of them , Friedemann, now a dentist; Phillip Maxwell, a lawyer; Thomas Buford, a retired prosecutor; and David Seed, a retired principal , spoke on the record. Another former student who witnessed the incident asked not to be identified. The men have differing political affiliations, although they mostly lean Democratic. Buford volunteered for Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008. Seed, a registered independent, has served as a Republican county chairman in Michigan. All of them said that politics in no way colored their recollections.

    “It happened very quickly, and to this day it troubles me,” said Buford, the school’s wrestling champion, who said he joined Romney in restraining Lauber. Buford subsequently apologized to Lauber, who was “terrified,” he said. “What a senseless, stupid, idiotic thing to do.”

    “It was a hack job,” recalled Maxwell, a childhood friend of Romney who was in the dorm room when the incident occurred. “It was vicious.”

    “He was just easy pickin’s,” said Friedemann, then the student prefect, or student authority leader of Stevens Hall, expressing remorse about his failure to stop it.

    The incident transpired in a flash, and Friedemann said Romney then led his cheering schoolmates back to his bay-windowed room in Stevens Hall.

    Friedemann, guilt ridden, made a point of not talking about it with his friend and waited to see what form of discipline would befall Romney at the famously strict institution. Nothing happened.

    (What’s your opinion: Are Romney’s high school actions relevant to his campaign?)

    Romney is now the presumed Republican presidential nominee. His campaign spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, said in a statement that “anyone who knows Mitt Romney knows that he doesn’t have a mean-spirited bone in his body. The stories of fifty years ago seem exaggerated and off base and Governor Romney has no memory of participating in these incidents.”

    Say what you will, this article and subsequent comments portray Romney as a harsh brute with no conscience and no recognition of his own excesses.

    Psychiatrists have a word for that.

  • The problem with this kind of story is, even assuming it is all true, if we prevented everyone who was a high school bully from running for office, there’d be hardly anybody around to run for office. Kids are vicious, plain and simple. Not every kid acts on such feelings, but almost everyone has it in them, and given the opportunity, it comes out, as it surely will with an alpha-male type like young Romney.

  • Cannonshop