Why Obama (probably) won’t endorse gay marriage this year

at 06:30 AM ET, 04/13/2012

The at-times-uneasy relationship between President Obama and the gay community hit another bump in the road this week when the White House declined to push through an executive order banning government contractors from discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

And while that move raised eyebrows, it’s not the major sticking point between the GLBT community and Obama. That, of course, is gay marriage.
Cadets walk across campus at Norwich University in Northfield, the nation's oldest private military academy and the first private military academy to host a gay pride week, March 28, 2012. (REUTERS/ Herb Swanson)

Salon’s Steve Kornacki this week points out that, while most of the Democratic Party’s class of potential 2016 presidential contenders supports gay marriage, Obama has still, despite indications that he may change his position at some point, declined to jump on board. Such a move that would make him first major-party presidential nominee to do so but would hardly make him a trailblazer in Democratic politics.

But gay marriage advocates shouldn’t hold their breath.

According to Fix interviews with more than half-dozen Democratic strategists, basically nobody in Obama’s party is expecting him to make the switch before the election. And even supporters of gay rights suggest the timing might be wrong.

While many may see it as the right thing to do, they say pulling such a switch would be too difficult this close to an election.

“I don’t expect him to change his position at this point,” said Democratic strategist Joe Trippi. “On the one hand, it would be a welcome surprise for many, and on the other hand, be seen as politically motivated and polarizing to others because of the timing.”

Most Democrats agreed that raising the issue in the context of the election might be counterproductive even for the gay rights movement itself.

“Speaking as a gay person, he should do what he believes is best for the country,” said former Obama adviser Steve Hildebrand. “If endorsing gay marriage is best, then that is what he should do. I would encourage him to do what he believes is best for the country and to not let politics play a part if that is possible.”

Obama, of course, has made inroads — significant ones — with the GLBT community, most notably ending the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for gays in the military and speaking out against California's Proposition 8, which overturned the state’s gay marriage law.

He has also spoken out against a federal amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman — the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Given what the president has already done, it’s not clear that taking it a step further would be at all beneficial. Indeed, it may hurt.

“It would give (Mitt) Romney an issue to try to blunt his serious flip-flopping problem, and the president has already shown his strong commitment to equality for LGBT Americans in ending don’t ask, don’t tell, passing hate crimes bill, speaking out against DOMA and state level anti-gay marriage legislation,” said a Democratic strategist.

Despite all of that, gay marriage is very much a sticking point for many in the gay community. And given the plenty of big-name Democrats have jumped on-board, the pressure on Obama to follow suit is growing by the day.

While there has not been a large-scale rebuke of the president by gay marriage supporters, there is some indication that the issue could be coming to a head.

The newly named chairman of the Democratic National Convention, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, has said gay marriage may be voted on as part of the party’s platform this year — a move that would really force the issue.

Either way, the issue is picking up steam. Several states have moved to allow gay marriage in recent months, and polling, for the first time, shows a majority of Americans support such laws.

That might suggest Obama would be well-served to support the law.

But even if you set aside the idea that such a move would look transparently political, backing gay marriage doesn’t gain Obama much. He’s already got many supporters in the gay community thanks to the things he has done, and backing gay marriage really only risks alienating independent voters and firing up a conservative base that isn’t quite raring to go right now.

Opposition to gay marriage, after all, is much more strident than support, and make no mistake: Social conservatives would be up in arms if Obama started pushing gay marriage.

“Right now the far right is not motivated to support Romney,” said one Democratic strategist who worked on Obama’s 2008 campaign. “Supporting gay marriage in an election year would do wonders for motivating the right-wing Republican base, and that’s not something I can imagine the president doing.”

For his part, Obama hasn’t said much on the issue in recent months, and his campaign doesn’t appear anxious to make gay rights a key issue in the looming campaign (though the Post’s Greg Sargent noted recently that he has been evaluating the ins and outs of supporting gay marriage).

Campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said Obama will decide when the time is right.

“The President and the President alone will come to a decision,” LaBolt said in a statement. “From allowing hospital visitation rights for gay partners to repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ President Obama has done more to advance equal rights for gays and lesbians than any other President — a record we intend to highlight.”

Mourdock raised $875,000 in first quarter: Sen. Richard Lugar’s (R-Ind.) primary opponent upped his fundraising in the first quarter but will still rely heavily on outside groups in his campaign.

State Treasurer Richard Mourdock raised $875,000 for the three-month period between January and March, more than double his total for any previous quarter.

But just as his campaign was announcing this, the Club for Growth filed a report with the Federal Election Commission noting that it had spent $635,000 on his behalf with just less than one month to go in the May 8 primary. In other words, there’s more to come.

Mourdock’s campaign only has about $430,000 cash on hand, and it seems likely he’ll be outspent down the stretch by conservative groups looking to oust Lugar.

Bill Clinton takes sides: Former president Bill Clinton is getting involved in some of the most competitive Democratic primaries this cycle.

On Thursday, Rep. Mark Critz (D-Pa.) announced Clinton’s endorsement in his primary with Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) and launched a new ad featuring that endorsement. Previously, the former president backed Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) in his tough primary, former Albuquerque mayor Marty Chavez for Senate candidate Rep. Martin Heinrich’s (D-N.M.) seat, Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Calif.) over Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.), and prosecutor Kathleen Kane over former congressman Patrick Murphy in the Pennsylvania Democratic attorney general race.

Clinton, of course, was on the winning side of the one of the most hotly contested primaries of the year when he backed businessman John Delaney to face Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.). Other Democratic leaders backed state Sen. Rob Garagiola in that primary.

Clinton is a great surrogate to have in many parts of the country, and it sounds like he’s ready to get his hands dirty this primary season.

Fixbits:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is up with ads against both of his most likely recall opponents.

Former senator George Allen (R-Va.) still isn’t endorsing in the GOP presidential race.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) would indeed consider being Romney’s vice presidential running mate, in case there was any doubt.

Former Texas solicitor general Ted Cruz raised $1.3 million for his ran at Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the open Texas GOP Senate primary. Dewhurst raised $1.7 million and has a big cash on hand advantage in the May 29 primary.

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning (R) raised $530,000 in the first quarter and spent even more than that. He has $1.45 million cash on hand.

Former Hawaii governor Linda Lingle (R) raised $1.3 million in the first quarter — a dropoff from her last quarter but still a big quarter in a small state. She again outraised the Democratic favorite, Rep. Mazie Hirono, who upped her fundraising to $1 million.

Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) joins primary opponent Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) on the air.

Former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) may attend the Democratic National Convention.

Must-reads:

For John Edwards, isolation is a symbol of his downfall” — Michael Leahy, Washington Post

Ann Romney defends role as stay-at-home-mom after Democratic pundit’s remarks” — Karen Tumulty and Philip Rucker, Washington Post

Campaigns Plan Maximum Push to Raise Money” — Nick Confessore, New York Times

 
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