But on street corners, in bars, coffee shops and sports clubs, voters gay and straight parsed the president’s words, and, although they differed on whether the announcement would help or hurt his reelection chances, most concluded that his decision was based on conscience rather than political calculus.
Obama had to be acting from his heart, McMillan and Hudson agreed, because they couldn’t see how his position could win him any political edge. But that's all they could agree on.
“I’m sorry, I was tickled and proud to see a black president, but I can’t vote for a man who goes against God,” said McMillan, 66, who lives in the Logan Circle area of Northwest. “I don’t believe in skin color more than I believe in God’s word. This president must be part atheist or something.”
“There’s more than one issue,” replied Hudson, 68. “This doesn’t make him a good or bad president; he just made a bad decision.”
A few blocks away, at bars on 17th Street NW that fly the rainbow flag as a symbol of gay pride, Obama’s decision was greeted as late but more than welcome.
“It’s about time somebody stood up for us,” said Jacqueline Ward, 29, who was having a drink with her partner. “There’s other issues that matter more — I mean, there’s still a war going on — but maybe he can push people to be more open-minded. He must really believe in it because it’s not going to win him a lot of votes.”
By November, will it matter whether voters believe the president acted out of political expediency or personal ethics?
“I don’t know what he believes,” said Cheryl Sanders, a pastor at the Third Street Church of God in the District’s Mount Vernon neighborhood and a professor of Christian ethics at Howard University’s divinity school. “But it’s okay to change your mind . . . and my sense is that he will probably gain more votes than lose votes.”
Sanders opposes same-sex marriage but says the president’s stance isn’t likely to diminish his support from black voters, just as his support for abortion rights hasn’t chased away blacks who oppose abortion on religious grounds.
“I don’t think it will work to wipe out all the other things: war, the economy, health care,” she said.
But some voters on both sides of the marriage debate were confounded by Obama’s statement, believing his new stance will cost him dearly.