Rights activists press Obama to work for gay marriage

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 24, 2010

Having signed into law a repeal of the military's ban on openly gay service members, President Obama now faces pressure from his allies to move on a much tougher and divisive issue: gay marriage.

Obama has long said that his preference is for states to create civil unions for same-sex couples that convey the legal protections and rights of marriage.

"I think that's the right thing to do," he said Wednesday during a news conference. "But I recognize that [for same-sex couples] it is not enough, and I think [that] is something that we're going to continue to debate."

Gay rights activists are pressing that debate, urging Obama to publicly call for states to allow same-sex marriage. It is fundamentally unfair, they say, that a gay soldier could die while serving but not be allowed in most states to marry his or her partner.

Conservatives, meanwhile, are warning that the American public would not welcome such a move by the president. Polls show that voters are far more supportive of allowing gays to serve in the military than they are of gay marriage.

Indeed, public opinion is so divided on the issue that the president would probably need months to sway voters to his position - time and attention that would potentially limit his ability to work on issues such as the economy.

Obama seems to recognize the political quandary.

At the news conference and during an interview this week with the gay and lesbian magazine the Advocate, he praised the same-sex couples he knows and noted the broad support of same-sex marriage by people who are in their 20s.

But rather than declare his support for gay marriage, Obama hedged, saying that his views on the subject are "evolving" and that "I struggle with this." He did not reverse his previous position that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.

"It's good to hear his views are not solidly where they have been, but he's still not there on marriage," said Brian Moulton, chief legislative counsel of the Human Rights Campaign, an influential gay rights group based in Washington.

But noting Obama's remarks this week about the importance of treating gay soldiers equally in the military, Moulton said, "It's hard to square that circle" with his refusal to publicly call for formalized gay marriage.

"Support for gay rights is no longer the third rail of political danger that it perhaps once was," said John Aravosis, a prominent liberal blogger. "There's really no excuse for the president's, or any Democratic politician's, reticence on marriage equality."

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