Insight. Antics.

Will Obama Get En-Gay-ged?

In Politics on February 16, 2011 at 7:28 pm

While the world focuses on Egypt and new uprisings in other Middle Eastern countries (and boy that sure is incredible), I was wondering if you wanted to join me in changing gears to broach a domestic social issue. I can’t hear you. What’s that? Muffled acquiescence? Smashing. Let’s get started.

Okay, here we go: by the way, the topic is gay marriage. Oh, don’t tiptoe backwards, I already lovingly dragged you here under vague pretenses.

The last time I let the neurons fire on this one was when DC voted to make same-sex marriage legal. After nobody in Congress raised enough grief to strike it down (yes, they get to do that), it became law last March. Since then, there have been a few major developments in the debate to allow guys-who-like-guys and girls-who-like-girls to be like us.

The unlikely, Unambiguously Straight Duo of David Boies and Ted Olsen, prominent Bush v. Gore nemeses in 2000, joined together to push back hard on Proposition 8’s repealing of California’s gay marriages. And they were successful last summer when judge Vaughn Walker, a reportedly gay man himself who was orginally nominated by Reagan and opposed by Pelosi, agreed with their side.

That District Court of Northern California ruling decreed that Prop 8 “violates due process and equal protection clauses in the U.S. Constitution.” However, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (one rung up the ladder) stayed (aka paused) that ruling as it is appealed. Whatever happens there, betting men say this one is going to The Supremes. And it’s hard to say which way the Court would go. Based on our law there appears to be a convincing case; based on its composition is another story.

Soon after that ruling in August, CNN became the first major polling institution to measure a majority in favor of gay marriage.

A brief refresher: “Five states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriages to be performed, but 31 states have passed laws blocking them.”

In addition, “Eight states now grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples or recognize such marriages if performed elsewhere. But under the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal government cannot recognize those relationships.”

Now, once again, a slew of stimuli has the potential to affect the debate, especially as we careen toward another presidential election.

As President Obama said at a press conference after the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal passed, “My feelings about this are constantly evolving. I struggle with this.”

Does anyone else find it weird that Obama is questioning in public? I thought people tried to figure this out internally or with a few close friends before they came out.

Obama has “balanced on a political tightrope for two years over the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the contentious 1996 law barring federal recognition of same-sex marriages. Now, two new federal lawsuits threaten to snap that rope out from under him.” He has “urged lawmakers to repeal the law. But at the same time, citing an executive-branch duty to defend acts of Congress, he has sent Justice Department lawyers into court to oppose suits seeking to strike the law down as unconstitutional.”

It’s rather technical, but these two new cases create circumstances in which the Obama Administration is going to have to take a more definitive stand on this issue. The deadline for this to occur is March 11. While there are some ways in which the Justice Department is intended to act separately from the Administration that appoints its members, any stance Justice takes on this issue in the two cases will will not be viewed independently of Obama.

It comes down to the clause in the Constitution that grants us all equal protection under the law (such as access to the same benefits), and whether we judge a law that might be discriminatory with a lenient test or a harsh test. For these two new cases, there is no legal precedent, and, “The Obama team has to say which test it thinks should be used.” That has repercussions. A much more coherent explanation of all this than I could give is available here.

The Administration’s response is inevitably going to be an exercise in contortion, akin to avoiding a web of red security lasers without tripping another set of green ones, too. Throw too much weight in favor, and you open your right flank to clear attacks from Republican nominees. Ease off and you will get berated on your left flank by human and gay rights groups. You need their vote and their organization to rally for re-election, but if not you, who will they back?

I think that last point is key, and it makes it seem more likely that he will lay back a bit and tiptoe on this one. As much as it may play politics, this is probably the best, safest option. I would rather have Obama be president over Mitt Romney, even if it means waiting two years to reveal his endorsement of same-sex marriage, because letting the cat out of the bag now won’t make it law anyway. Plus, we have seen this issue take over the debate before.

Not so much in 2008, when Prop 8’s passage in California was an unintentional by-product of high African American turnout for Obama, showing squeamishness on gay marriage. The issue itself was not a major part of the presidential campaign.

The 2004 election however, is remembered for three things: Kerry somehow losing a debate on Iraq, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth… and gay marriage. This last issue was not related to the candidates or what was going on in the world, but it proved an insatiable wedge issue that could consume gobs of media time. It was manufactured by one side, and that side was prodded by Karl Rove.

Will this happen again in 2012? The smart money (well, really all the money), is on where the economy stands come campaign time. For sure, that will be the number one determinant of who wins next year, but other issues do tend to creep in and have an impact.

It should be a winning issue, but it just is not right now. Every day, every week, it seems more Americans become amenable to, if not endorsing of, same-sex marriage.

We can already see the conservative position eroding. Last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), GOProud, a gay caucus (hehe, gay caucus), was in attendance. And anti-gay groups the National Organization for Marriage and the Family Research Council were not. They boycotted GOProud’s inclusion, but that didn’t keep would-be White House Republicans from speaking there.

That, coupled with the news that Barbara Bush, daughter of George W., revealed her unabashed support of same-sex marriage in a video for the Human Rights Campaign’s New Yorkers for Marriage Equality movement, packs a wallop. As Ben Smith of Politico put it: “Here’s a pretty vivid illustration of the generation divide playing out inside the Republican Party. George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign played same-sex marriage against John Kerry; his daughter’s now a spokeswoman for the cause.”

It may not just be a generational divide, but a gender one, as well. Dubya and John McCain may remain against it, but each of their wives, Laura and Cindy, have come out in support, joining their daughters Barbara and Meghan. Well-known lesbian Mary Cheney has already won over her dad, who is looking like a much smaller Darth Vader these days, though still bigger than the kid from the VW ad.

Back in ’96, legislators’ chief concern with DOMA was “encouraging responsible procreation and child-rearing.” Studies, conventional wisdom, and anecdotal evidence are rendering that reasoning inert and obsolete.

There are plenty of things that people can say are unnatural. There are some people who think that being raised in a single family home is unnatural. Dan Quayle used to be one of them. Murphy Brown sure showed him.

The argument that children of gay parents are somehow lesser or deprived has been shown to be absolute bunk. Stories of gay dads and moms being doubly attentive and involved in PTA meetings, etc. have gained some traction. Plus, there’s Modern Family.

And boy, if you are skeptical of what comes out of families with gay or lesbian parents, I dare you to watch this: it’s video of Zach Wahls, 19-year-old kid in Iowa with two moms who stepped up to the mic and unleashed a rhetorical masterpiece on the state court, which is debating repeal of the law they approved.

Minds are changing and it feels likes the argument against is weakening. Take Newt Gingrich and Howard Dean in a civil debate covering a wide range of issues at George Washington University on February 1. One of the last questions was about gay marriage. Dean makes a case that manages to be both logical and emotional, focusing on “The rights, not the word,” whereas Newt falls back on tradition. It’s a telling sign that one of the most intelligent conservatives in politics can’t make a compelling case for his position other than, “That’s the way it’s always been.” For some reason, C-SPAN won’t let me embed this video, but it is worth watching the relevant portion here.

Besides, there are much more compelling points than Newt’s against. More registries to search where all the good gifts are taken, fewer precious weekends taken up in the summer, reminders of how you are officially the only single one left among your friends, yada, yada, yada. These are the powerful arguments that make me question my stance. And yet I persevere.

I do so because there’s a lens, and it’s not even a super-advanced one like a telephoto or image stabilized 20-megapixel, through which standing against freedom and democracy is as bad as standing against love. You can burn and dodge on the negative all you want, but none of those things are going to go away. We saw it in Egypt with the former, and I suspect we will see it again with the latter.

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