In My Lifetime – The Politics of Marriage Equality

By: Drew Zimmerman
Friday, May 10th, 2012 11:03 AM

Wednesday marked a groundbreaking moment, as President Barack Obama became the highest-ranking official in our Nation’s history to endorse marriage equality, in an exclusive interview with ABC News. This, in the wake of North Carolina’s passage of Amendment One on Tuesday, which effectively bans same sex marriage in the state. Prior to this endorsement, the President had repeatedly stated that his own opinion on the matter was “evolving”, in stark contrast to his pro-equality stance in 1996 while campaigning for a seat in the Illinois senate, and his opposition during the general election of 2008. National polling on marriage-equality has shown a sharp increase in support from 2004 to 2012, with those in favor jumping from the low thirties to a slim majority today (50% as of the most recent Gallup Poll).

Some may call this political posturing by the President, more of a campaign finance decision than a personal one. Recent reports have shown that LGBT donors threatened to boycott the Obama re-election campaign, due to his refusal to sign an executive order barring same sex discrimination by federal contractors (which he still refuses to sign, by the way). Moreover, he has faced growing disenchantment with young voters, a key demographic which enthusiastically swept him into office in 2008. Supporting marriage equality creates contrast with presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney, whom, ironically, has done some “evolving” of his own, but may cost him independents in swing states such as Ohio, Indiana, and especially, North Carolina.

Despite all the enthusiasm and glowing support President Obama received for his statement, he was quick to clarify that he believes states should decide the issue, and doesn’t plan to pursue new policies at the federal level. Even though marriage licenses are issued by states themselves, federal marriage policy is extensive. The federal government provides special tax rules for married people, not to mention offering benefits to the spouses of millions of federal employees. Social security benefits, hospital visitation rights, citizenship requirements, and many more issues fall under the umbrella of federal marriage regulations. While it may not be politically convenient for the President, marriage is a federal issue, and unless he wants to continue merely paying lip service to the LGBT community, he should support national recognition of same-sex marriage.

Obama has always affirmed that he unequivocally stands for the rights of gay and lesbian individuals throughout his political career, but marriage inequality is just one facet of the injustice they face. It is still legal to fire employees based on their sexual preference in 29 states, health care is more difficult to come by, same sex couples cannot adopt in many states, and homelessness for gay youth is on the rise. This isn’t just about those in the LGBT community either, as we saw in the aforementioned amendment one of North Carolina, which affirms marriage as the only legal union in the state, putting straight couples in domestic partnerships at risk for losing benefits.

Regardless of the criticism, regardless of the potential political calculations, this was still a significant cultural step forward for equality in the United States. At the end of the day, the President simply expressed an opinion, one which we hope will propel just policy forward in years to come.

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