Obama, in his interview with ABC News: “At a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.” Video at the end of the post.
Whatever the actual impact of this in legislative terms, this is a major historical and cultural moment, and the President deserves kudos for it. Yes, he had to be pushed into taking this step, and those who hammered him ceaselessly on the issue deserve enormous credit for making this happen. But Obama himself has, in various ways, let it be known that he wants people to go out there and make him do the right thing. In this case, he responded.
There will be a lot of cynical media analysis to the effect that Obama only did this because Joe Biden forced him to do it and because his “evolving” position had become impossible to sustain. I wish those circumstances hadn’t been required to make this happen, and I frequently criticized the President for his equivocating. But happen it did, and this moment is a civil rights milestone. Obama has become the first — and only — sitting president to come out for full equality for gay and lesbian Americans.
We will now find out whether coming out for full equality for those with different sexual orientations is really the massive political risk people said it would be. Mitt Romney — who suppports rolling back gay rights and a constitutional amendment against gay marriage, and who failed to defend openly gay adviser Ric Grenell against attacks from the right — may now be forced into a culture war footing. At a time when majorities of independents and moderates have recognized the inevitable, and conservatives and Republicans are the last holdouts against it, we’ll see a truly sharp contrast between the two candidates on one of the major civil rights issues of our time.
I don’t know how this will play among culturally conservative swing voters who are supposedly going to be alienated by it, but I’ll tell you this much: I’m looking forward to finding out. I suspect that when Obama discovers that the political fallout isn't as fearsome as people said it might be, he’ll ask himself why on earth he dallied so long about it. If and when this issue is revealed to be a nobrainer to the American mainstream, it will have proven a significant political moment, too — a huge victory for the left, which has argued for this for years now.
I’ve experienced a good deal of anti-gay discrimination first hand. I grew up on the far west side of Manhattan in the 1970s, along the river, when the area was truly a gay ghetto. The neighborhood was dotted with underground gay clubs — which were later padlocked when the AIDS crisis hit — and as a kid, I frequently saw young men, ordinary young men whose sex and love lives had been forced underground, quietly leaving them in the early morning. I saw gays subjected to terrible abuse on the streets. I occasionally saw vans full of thugs patrolling the neighborhood, in search of a little gay bashing fun, shouting “faggot” at single men and couples walking the neighborhood.
Not being gay myself, it’s hard for me to understand what it’s like to endure that kind of bigotry and hostility, or to appreciate on an emotional level just how long and difficult a struggle gays and lesbians have endured — and will continue to endure. But today’s moment drives home how far they’ve come — how far we’ve all come, one would like to think — and will hopefully make the rest of the journey a little bit easier.