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Posted at 04:56 PM ET, 04/04/2012

Obama’s marriage equality dilemma deepens

The dilemma Obama faces on gay marriage has just deepened yet again with the news that four former Democratic National Committee chairs have called for the inclusion of a marriage equality plank in the party platform at the convention later this summer:

“We are proud that the Democratic Party fights for working families, economic justice, and equal opportunity for all,” said Howard Dean, Donald Fowler, Steve Grossman and David Wilhelm in a joint statement.
“Times change but our principles must always remain strong. That is why, as former chairs of the Democratic National Committee, we stand with Freedom to Marry, 22 Democratic senators, Leader Nancy Pelosi, and more than 35,000 Americans in urging the Party to include a freedom to marry plank in the platform that is ratified at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte this September.”

It's still unclear to me how Obama escapes this problem. It’s very hard to imagine that in the fourth presidential election of the 21st century, the Democratic Party platform won’t stand up for full equality for gay and lesbian Americans. Yet if full equality does get put into the platform, this puts Obama in an awkward spot: It will put more pressure on him to complete his evolution on the issue. On the other hand, if the Democratic Party tries to finesse or weasel around the issue, a core Dem constituency could feel angry and betrayed just six weeks before the election.

It seems to be widely accepted on faith that coming out for marriage inequality before the election is very risky politics for Obama, because it could alienate culturally conservative Democrats and independents in swing states. But do swing voters focused on the economy really care about this issue at a time when poll show, for the first time, that majorities support gay marriage?

Indeed, gay marriage proponents make the opposite case — that such a move would be good politics. It could juice fundraising in a big way. It could galvanize Dems far beyond the gay and lesbian community, such as young voters and rank and file progressives who aren’t necessarily focused on gay rights. It could capture some of the historic aura of 2008. And it could even force the right into full-fledged battle mode, pulling Mitt Romney back onto culture war turf just when he’s trying to escape a difficult primary that featured all manner of hidebound cultural displays and pivot to economic issues.

As Jed Lewison put it recently:

This is one of those occasions where doing the right thing is also good politics. He might not have the power to make marriage equality the law of the land with the snap of his fingers, but you can be damn sure that supporting it would provoke a furious reaction from Republicans similar to the birth control debate, strengthening the hands of the right-wing Republicans like Rick Santorums and putting the G.O.P.’s anti-gay bigotry on full display for all to see.

One assumes that Dems are worried that coming out for gay marriage also risks playing into shadowy narratives about how Obama doesn’t really share the values of ordinary Americans. But the politics of this aside, it’s really unclear how Obama escapes this problem. More people will continue calling for inclusion in the platform, and the issue is going to come to a head no matter what.

By  |  04:56 PM ET, 04/04/2012

 
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