Friday, May 11, 2012

A Step Forward

In an interview this week with ABC's Robin Roberts, President Obama stated that he had come to the conclusion that same sex couples should be allowed to marry.  He said he had evolved to this decision after several years of contemplation and conversation with friends, family and associates.  

The President has indeed evolved on this matter, but it seems his evolution has taken him full circle to his stance in 1996, where he was supportive of same sex marriage then, while a state senator from Illinois.  One can only guess as to why he changed his mind the first time, then reverted back to a stance that he held 16 years ago.  Some of the more cynical folks out there have suggested it is purely political as he knows he needs to ramp up the base in order to be reelected.  Perhaps they are right. Perhaps this statement was purely political in nature.  The statement was followed up with a rather weak indication that he also believes the matter is an issue for the states to decide.  Who knew President Obama was a Federalist?  So maybe that is all this is, a planned effort to get the base ramped up as we move hard into the general election cycle.

But, maybe not.  The President has for some time shown where he stands on the issue of gay rights.  First, he pushed hard and won repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell legislation, that odious law that said gays and lesbians could serve in the military as long as they didn't tell anyone they were gay.  Getting this law repealed was not an easy matter.  Many in Congress wanted nothing to do with the repeal and several in the military fought it tooth and nail.  To be fair, Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs were advocates of repealing the law and they, along with the President are to be given credit for getting the energy behind the repeal.  The President has also informed the Justice Department to stop the enforcement of DOMA, or the Defence of Marriage Act, another law signed by former President Bill Clinton in the early 1990's.   The President has consistently spoken out about his belief in fairness and equal rights for gays and lesbians.  This position is not new, so I'm not surprised to hear him say he's in favor of same sex couples being able to marry. I think this is a progression personally for the man and he is being careful both from a governance standpoint and a political standpoint as to the next steps.  That is why the "states rights" tap-dance was included in the interview. 

It is not hard to understand this.  If he came out swinging like Teddy Roosevelt did against the Trusts in the early 1900's, he would in my view inadvertently set back the cause of marriage equality several years.  If there is anything we can easily understand from our history is that change is slow and incremental.  Forcing change of this nature down the throats of the citizenry before they are ready will cause a fierce resistance such as was seen in the late 1950's and early 1960's when Civil Rights legislation was passed and finally starting to be enforced by the Federal Government.  Hundreds of black people were injured or killed by those opposing equality for African Americans.  As to same sex marriage, I believe the country has progressed significantly in its view of societal acceptance of different lifestyles, but it is highly evident that people have expressed their disfavor of same sex marriage at the ballot box.   Today, only 8 states have legalized same sex marriage, while 40 have some level of statute prohibiting it.  31 states have constitutional amendments that speak to some level of prohibition of same sex marriage or defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman.  So from the evidence, the country doesn't seem ready to accept this.  Now we need to be careful, because the voting results in these states doesn't necessarily mean the country as a whole is not in favor of same sex marriage.  It means those who voted aren't.  There is a difference.   Polling across the country shows a much different picture.  In general, the nation supports same sex marriage by a 47% in favor to a 43% opposing.  When you look at those under the age of 40, that difference swings to over 60% in favor of same sex marriage and less than 30% opposing.   So, we see a massive age gap in this issue.  Baby Boomers like me seem to be more slow to progress on the issue, but our kids have gone way past this to the point they think it is a non-issue.  I know my kids do.  Most of the kids (those under the age of 30 are kids to me) I know are in favor of same sex marriage or are at worst, ambivalent about it.

So here we are.  We have a country that is divided on the issue. Progressives can find numbers and statistics that support their claim and conservatives (social ones) can find statistics to support their claims.  However, what is clear to me is that the country is moving in the direction of acceptance.  It has been slow and I believe will continue to progress forward, but like Canada, The Netherlands, Spain, Argentina, Israel, South Africa and at least 5 other nations have done, same sex marriage will eventually become legal and protected in this country.   It is the right and proper thing to do.  We have seen this country become more enlightened over its short history.  African Americans are no long considered property.  The same is true with women.  We have come to the conclusion that the Republic will not fall if couples from two different ethnic backgrounds get married.  Inclusion and integration have made this country stronger.  We have overcome the fear based prejudices that caused us to create insidious Jim Crow laws, or laws that discriminate against women in terms of pay equality, or laws that allow for the purposeful discrimination of people because of their sexual orientation.  We are moving forward, albeit like a glacier some-times but forward none-the-less.  This is a good thing, and I hope I'm still alive when we can sit down and marvel at how idiotic it was to prohibit same-sex couples from being able to get married.

So, thank you Mr. President.  Your words have moved the glacier forward, even if it was just a little bit.

Tell me what you think,


1 comment:

  1. I too wish the glacier would move faster. I'm always amazed how people can be totally against discrimination of one kind and then strongly against equality for a different group. I agree that once the current under 40's become the voting majority this will get fixed.