President Obama’s announcement of support for same-sex marriage in an interview with ABC News on Wednesday was a welcome surprise for the millions of people who campaigned for him. We all wished that he would finally enter the 21st century as many of his supporters (both gay and straight) had, and declare what we secretly all thought were his true beliefs anyway.
Many of us among his supporters and campaigners who are gay or lesbian were happy with the progress that the Obama administration had made in advancing equality with the passage of Hate Crimes legislation, the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and the order advocating repeal of the Defence of Marriage Act. Despite this progress, frustration was growing that the President did not stand up firmly and directly for marriage equality, especially when a hateful constitutional amendment was being proposed (and now passed) in North Carolina. Coupled with this are the polls that revealed a narrow majority of Americans now supported marriage equality for same sex couples.
This annoyance at the President’s position, a move many saw as politically calculated, was beginning to become a problem for him. Yes, most of us would have voted for him anyway with or without his announcement yesterday. However, the frustration that was growing on the Left among LGBT activists, progressives, and liberals seemed to have created a situation that was potentially damaging to his campaign by demotivating some from donating money to the re-election effort or vigorously campaigning for him. How was a man that was all about “hope” and “change” going to avoid such a critical issue, an issue that is the civil rights battle of our generation? How could he just brush it aside and wait until after the election? Did he think he could get away with this civil unions cover for long?
In this sense, a calculated approach was potentially electorally dangerous as his image of principled fighter for the little guy was beginning to slowly erode. When Vice President Joe Biden, a man known for his candour, stated his unequivocal support for marriage equality and was joined by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Pandora’s box was wide open. He could not have avoided the issue any longer. The waffling with advocating civil unions, supporting marriage equality in states that have passed it, decrying anti-gay marriage amendments as discriminatory and divisive, while at the same time never verbally proclaiming that LGBT couples should be treated equally through marriage equality just wasn’t adding up. It was also getting confusing and annoying to many.
Thus, when we heard him utter the words on national television that he supported same sex couples to marry, President Obama took a major step in not only his re-election campaign, but also for the wider struggle for LGBT equality in America and around the world. His announcement has reverberated around the world. A man who inspired the world four years ago has inspired us once again by taking a principled stand for equality. Some may say it is calculated and politically motivated, but when was the last time a U.S. presidential candidate came out for gay marriage to gain votes?
In the end, this move is no doubt politically risky. It will probably motivate some on the right and in the middle who hate the idea of two men or two women getting married to go and vote for Republican Mitt Romney when they previously were demotivated from voting. It may cost him some votes in battleground states among socially conservative blue-collar white voters. But at the end of the day, President Obama took a principled stand for an issue that is still being debated in America and around the world. He took a stand for the millions of LGBT people in America around the world living in the closet or in fear for their lives as many countries still criminalise homosexuality. He took a stand for those who have lost their job because of their sexual orientation, or who have been victims of bullying in school, or who have lost the support of their family.
What the President did yesterday was groundbreaking, and he should be fully commended for it. It is our duty now to come together and use his words endorsing equality to put them into action. We must take that message across America and around the world in the days, weeks, and months ahead to fight for equal rights for LGBT people everywhere. We must also come together and fight for the President so that he wins a second term and realises that dream of equality into law. We owe that to him and to the millions of people depending on his service to the country.
Eugene Resnick is a campaigns and communications operative at Mass1 in London. He interned for President Obama at the White House in the summer of 2010.