Little criticism from GOP over Obama's reversal on Defense of Marriage Act

The White House says President Barack Obama is "grappling" with his personal views on gay marriage even as he's ordered the Justice Department to stop defending the constitutionality of a law that bans it. (Feb. 23)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 25, 2011; 8:58 AM

President Obama has faced little criticism from Republicans over his reversal on the Defense of Marriage Act, showing the complicated and shifting politics of gay rights issues.

Since Obama's administration announced Wednesday it would no longer defend in court the law that bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, Republicans, both in Congress and the potential 2012 candidates, have offered either silence or muted comments on the decision. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) criticized Obama, but not on the substance of the law or gay rights.

"While Americans want Washington to focus on creating jobs and cutting spending, the president will have to explain why he thinks now is the appropriate time to stir up a controversial issue that sharply divides the nation," said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Boehner.

To be sure, some key social conservatives, such as Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, have criticized the decision pointedly, emphasizing marriage is between a man and woman. And at an event at Harvard University on Thursday, House Majority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said the GOP was looking at legislative options on the issue.

But it's highly unlikely the Republicans will push for a federal ban on gay marriage, as they did when they controlled the House in 2006. It also seems as if President Obama will remain "evolving" or "grappling" in his views on gay marriage, the terms he and his staff have evoked as he discusses the issue, hinting but not quite declaring he might soon support gay marriage.

The reason for both parties' caution is politics. Unlike most political issues, gay marriage splits along generational lines almost as much as political ones. According to a Pew poll late last year, 53 percent of people overall born after 1980 back same-sex marriage, but only 29 percent of people born between 1928 and 1945 support it.

Democrats, who struggled with elderly voters in 2010, would risk not winning them back by adopting a pro-gay-marriage stance in 2012. Republicans, who lost among young voters in huge numbers in 2008, could hemorrhage even more support in that demographic with a push to ban gay marriage.

Black History Month

The White House completed its Black History Month celebration by hosting a concert Thursday night honoring Motown Records.

The concert, which featured a group of artists including Smokey Robinson and Sheryl Crow, completes a month in which the Obama administration tried to do something every day to celebrate the month. Prominent black staffers in the administration were profiled on, the president hosted a White House screening of the film "Thurgood" about the first black Supreme Court justice and Vice President Biden had a group of black congressmen and legislators at the Naval Observatory.

Black choirs performed at tours of the White House.

Here's a behind the scenes look at the "Thurgood" showing.

Obama today

The president will meet with a group of Democratic governors at a closed-door session at the White House.

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