Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

October 28, 2010

'EVOLVING' ATTITUDES ON MARRIAGE EQUALITY.... President Obama sat down in the Roosevelt Room yesterday to chat with five high-profile bloggers -- Crooks & Liars' John Amato, Eschaton's Duncan Black, Daily Kos' Barbara Morrill, AmericaBlog's Joe Sudbay, and Oliver Willis -- and over the course of about an hour, they covered quite a bit ground.

There were several exchanges of note, but I was especially struck by a question from Sudbay about same-sex marriage. For context, I should note that while Obama had expressed at least some support for marriage equality before coming to Washington, his position for years has been to support civil unions, but not to go any further.

It's why I found his response interesting.

THE PRESIDENT: Joe, I do not intend to make big news sitting here with the five of you, as wonderful as you guys are. (Laughter.) But I'll say this --

Q: I just want to say, I would be remiss if I didn't ask you this question.

THE PRESIDENT: Of course.

Q: People in our community are really desperate to know.

THE PRESIDENT: I think it's a fair question to ask. I think that -- I am a strong supporter of civil unions. As you say, I have been to this point unwilling to sign on to same-sex marriage primarily because of my understandings of the traditional definitions of marriage.

But I also think you're right that attitudes evolve, including mine. And I think that it is an issue that I wrestle with and think about because I have a whole host of friends who are in gay partnerships. I have staff members who are in committed, monogamous relationships, who are raising children, who are wonderful parents.

And I care about them deeply. And so while I'm not prepared to reverse myself here, sitting in the Roosevelt Room at 3:30 in the afternoon, I think it's fair to say that it's something that I think a lot about. That's probably the best you'll do out of me today. (Laughter.)

He went on to add, "I think it's pretty clear where the trendlines are going," suggesting he sees marriage equality as an inevitability.

Now, I don't want to read too much into this, and I didn't see or hear how Obama was communicating this, but reading the transcript leads me to think the president may actually be prepared to move on this, perhaps even before his re-election bid in two years.

Richard Socarides, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton on gay issues, noted after learning of the comments, "Presidents don't usually think out loud unless they intend to send a signal that they are shifting a position."

It's obviously speculative, and we haven't received any other hints on this, but it's something to keep an eye on, at a minimum.

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

Is the before or after he asked the DOJ to step in on the DADT ruling ?

Sorry, but trying to distinguish between his views on this issue is getting tiring. One might even think he is pandering the to the LGBT voters right before an election.

His statement rolls up into, "But... I have black friends..." mantra we see used by the other side. We get it, he knows gay people, yet he just can't find it in himself to treat them equally, but maybe tomorrow.

Posted by: ScottW714 on October 28, 2010 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

Hey, he's following the trend lines. Isn't that what we ask of a leader?

Posted by: Tom Allen on October 28, 2010 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

How much clearer do you want the Prez to be? Sorry, but "I support gay marriage" still equals "I don't really want to be president."

Posted by: beejeez on October 28, 2010 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

Hey, he's following the trend lines. Isn't that what we ask of a leader?
Posted by: Tom Allen

Hardly, trends are shifting right, hard right. I would prefer that he stick to progressive values, like equality for all, not politics de jour.

Posted by: ScottW714 on October 28, 2010 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

Missing in the discussion is the fact that "traditional marriage" is an abject failure. With the divorce rate around 50%, it more serial monogamy than a lifelong commitment.

Posted by: DAY on October 28, 2010 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

Hey Steve,
FYI - Joe's last name is Sudbay, not Sunbay. I used to read him and Aravosis all the time.

Posted by: budpaul on October 28, 2010 at 10:39 AM | PERMALINK

The ONLY form of "marriage" that the government can say anything about is civil union -- which is a legal contract between consenting individuals. A legal contract, by definition, only exists in the context of laws, which is to say, of government.

And clearly, it is unconstitutional for the government to prohibit a class of individuals from engaging in legal contracts based on their sexual orientation.

On the other hand, sacramental marriage is by definition an "establishment of religion", and it is clearly unconstitutional for the government to "make law" regarding it. The government can neither require nor prohibit churches from giving the status of "marriage", however defined by a particular church, to anyone they want. Indeed, strictly speaking, it is unconstitutional for the government to even recognize sacramental marriages.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on October 28, 2010 at 10:39 AM | PERMALINK

I'm not sure why Atrios was included in the conversation. He posted the transcript on his blog but his only commentary, so far, has been a snippet of pointless bitching. I'm not sure there's any major blog site that contributes less productive, original stuff to the blog-o-discourse.

Mike

Posted by: MBunge on October 28, 2010 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

"Now, I don't want to read too much into this, and I didn't see or hear how Obama was communicating this, but reading the transcript leads me to think the president may actually be prepared to move on this, perhaps even before his re-election bid in two years."

Steve, you are an eternal optimist.

Posted by: Kid Charles on October 28, 2010 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

I'm sorry, but I don't get it. If the Repugnants win the House and the DOJ continues the appeal of the DOMA court ruling, why would it matter that Obama might, maybe, some day, perhaps before, but more likely after he leaves office, change his mind on same sex marriage?

Posted by: Temple Houston on October 28, 2010 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

Beejeez is right: For Obama to come out in favor of same-sex marriage would be politically damaging, with little or no upside.

With the exception of DOMA, this is really a state law issue, not a Federal one, and will be fought out in the state courts or state legislatures. to the extent this is potentially a Federal issue, it is a Constitutional one, ultimately for the Supreme Court, and Obama has no meaningful role to play at this point.

If Obama were to express what I think we all believe to be his real opinion--that same-sex marriages should be legal--would provide psychological comfort to the gay community and its supporters on this issue, but it will also probably significantly damage Obama, and Democrats generally, in this election and probably in 2012 as well.

DOMA will continue to be the law at the Federal level until it is either struck down by the courts or there is sufficient support for repeal in Congress-neither are likely to happen in the near future.

DADT will probably be effectively undone by Executive Order by Obama, but presumably in accordance with a timetable he has worked out with the Defense Department and the Joint Chiefs. Eventually, there will come a time when the statute itself will be repealed by act of Congress.

Polls may show that all of these actions are favored by a majority, but let's remember that these issues rile up the right wing base much more than they energize the left wing base.

Posted by: DRF on October 28, 2010 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

I think SecularAnimist goes too far. The mere recognition of a marital contract that was created during a religious service is not unconstitutional.

If there is anything unconstitutional about "sacramental marriage" it is merely that the government grants a private-sector monopoly to religious officials to perform the service. The government should be required to permit atheists and agnostics to apply for licenses to marry people.

Posted by: square1 on October 28, 2010 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marriage

I really dont see how matrimony is 'traditional' given all the changes over recorded history.

Its like someone telling me Christmas is about the birth of christ then telling their kids that its really about Santa Claus bringing them gifts from Walmart.

Posted by: Kill Bill on October 28, 2010 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

You are way too optimistic, Steve. Obama is not going to do anything to move forward on marriage equality. I think the best we can hope for is that he doesn't work against it, but that's it.

Why do you think he would expend any effort on marriage equality given his complete lack of support for ending DADT?

Posted by: karen marie on October 28, 2010 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

As far as Obama goes, I simply see this as a little election-time damage control to keep the gays in line: "Don't pay attention to what I do or say, read between the lines and be patient."

There are two ways to look at the gay-marriage and DADT issues.

OOH, you can view the issues as being discretionary; that our society has the Constitutional right to deny gays the right to same-sex marriage or military service, even if it is a bad idea to do so.

Personally, I put DADT in this category. I support ending DADT and I believe that gays should be allowed to serve, but I do not believe that there is a Constitutional right to do so.

OTOH, you can view the issues as civil rights issues. And I put same-sex marriage into this category.

I am willing to cut Obama more slack on DADT than same-sex marriage because I believe that it is immoral to deny someone their civil rights. You have no right to tell someone, "I'll fight for your civil rights when it is politically convenient for me."

Fuck that. You either believe that same-sex marriage is a civil right or you don't. And if you do, then you stand up and say so. Immediately. And damn the political fallout.

Posted by: square1 on October 28, 2010 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

you mean he's sending a signal in code to gay voters before an election that he might be willing to do something finally? And he's different from every other democratic politician how? That signal will vanish once the midterms close, because, hey, there's a re-election to win. If anything happens, it won't be because of the president.

Posted by: jwc on October 28, 2010 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

What a weak-kneed, pile of steaming crap answer. Why does he support civil unions and not gay marriage? What is it about "traditional marriage" (whatever the hell that means) that can't include gay couples?

Obama had an opportunity to take a real stand, and he flunked.

Posted by: Stetson Kennedy on October 28, 2010 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

People will say "yahbut marriage is between a man and a woman"

And I say "Women were once considered property. And like the political buffoon that said the other day "...gay marriage is like marrying a table or clock" has forgotten that women, traditionally, were once tables and clocks"

Yeh. Snarky.

Posted by: Kill Bill on October 28, 2010 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

Let it never be said the pander is an endangered species.

Posted by: doubtful on October 28, 2010 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

Is anything that happens inside the beltway this close to an election about anything but the election?

Posted by: Michael7843853 on October 28, 2010 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

People will say "yahbut marriage is between a man and a woman"

And I say "Women were once considered property. And like the political buffoon that said the other day "...gay marriage is like marrying a table or clock" has forgotten that women, traditionally, were once tables and clocks"

Yeh. Snarky.

Posted by: Kill Bill on October 28, 2010 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

sorry for the repeat posts the browser keeps resending. Please delete.

Ill close the site now =]

Posted by: Kill Bill on October 28, 2010 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

SecularAnimist is correct. Square1, even the form of "marriage" that is recognized in the United States is based on the Anglican religious concept of "one man, one woman." It's a specific contract based on a particular religious proscriptions. Obviously, religions which diverge from this model (Islam, 19th century Mormons) are discriminated against, just as much as gays and lesbians.

I don't argue against gay marriage. In fact, I'm basically in favor of expanding "marriage" to include it, since most people will never be able to get their minds around the fact that state-sanctioned "marriage" is basically unconstitutional, and our current system is discriminatory. But I certainly respect people who are in favor of non-discriminatory civil unions, over state-supported "marriage."

And I love the fact that people who seem to believe that marriage is the "end-all" for gay rights say things like "'traditional marriage' (whatever the hell that means)." In fact, most people don't know "whatever the hell" marriage means, and as a legal matter, that's really not a good thing.

Posted by: sapient on October 28, 2010 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

How much clearer do you want the Prez to be? Sorry, but "I support gay marriage" still equals "I don't really want to be president."

Exactly, I don't for one second believe he really cares whether gay people can get married or not, but Republicans are masters at using wedge issues like this to defeat Democrats.

Posted by: Archon on October 28, 2010 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

How much clearer do you want the Prez to be? Sorry, but "I support gay marriage" still equals "I don't really want to be president."

So his ambitions are more important than gay American's rights ? Good to know I voted for a someone that isn't too worried about other minorities rights.

Pretty much sums up Obama's presidency and the Democratic Party's overall strategy, too scared to go toe-to-toe with the bullies, placating their absurdness in hopes they will take it easy on them at some future point.

Posted by: ScottW714 on October 28, 2010 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

Sapient: To be clear, I mostly agree with SecAn's take. The government is NOT permitted to define marriage for religious groups. Nor is the government required to define marriage under law as any particular religious group defines it, including "one man, one woman".

What I objected to was his statement that "it is unconstitutional for the government to even recognize sacramental marriages".

It depends what he meant by "recognize." If the point is that, e.g., our government cannot refuse to prosecute the rape of a muslim woman by her husband just because under Islamic law a husband cannot rape a wife, then I completely agree. But if the point is that the government should not be allowed to recognize a marriage simply because it was entered into during a "sacramental" ceremony then I totally disagree.

Posted by: square1 on October 28, 2010 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

You stopped right before the best part.

Sudbay: ... the arc of history

Obama the arc of history

They were quoting Martin Luther King Jr.
Sudbay compared the struggle for gay marriage to the civil rights struggle, and Obama agreed.

He's moving on this.

Posted by: Robert Waldmann on October 28, 2010 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

"Marriage" should be abolished in government language and replaced with civil union. That is the obvious solution. If you want holy matrimony go to your goddamn church ("for Christ’s sake") if you want to be legally married get a civil union at your justice of the "piece". Straight folks have been for a long time now, but the non-existent separation of church and state has been calling it the wrong thing for a long time now. "Tolerance" used on the other side of the issue has run its course; it's time to get equal or get angry. Time to throw Christians under the bus. If we're going to be accused of having an agenda then "god damn it" let’s give them one. Obama, bless his heart, is not with the progressive program.

Posted by: Trollop on October 28, 2010 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

Look, if we're going to compare the gay-rights movement to the civil-rights movement, isn't it fair to point out that it was not presidents who were leading the charge? Nobody did more for civil rights in the U.S. in recent history than LBJ, but LBJ didn't succeed by trying to bully-pulpit the nation on the issue. It took a heroic multi-front effort to give him political cover, and Democrats wound up taking a miserable hit anyway.

Every time you vote, you vote for the lesser of two evils. So carp all you want, that's your right. But if you don't prevent the greater of two evils from prevailing, don't kid yourself that you're not part of the problem.

Posted by: beejeez on October 28, 2010 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

If we're going to be accused of having an agenda then "god damn it" let’s give them one.

Trollop, I wholeheartedly agree with you.

Posted by: Gaia on October 28, 2010 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

square1 wrote: "But if the point is that the government should not be allowed to recognize a marriage simply because it was entered into during a 'sacramental' ceremony then I totally disagree."

So you are saying that the government should grant special legal status to people purely on the basis that they have participated in a religious ceremony.

Should the government also give special legal status to people who have been baptized?

Posted by: SecularAnimist on October 28, 2010 at 5:07 PM | PERMALINK

I believe that square1 has missed the fact that ALL marriages in the US are "civil unions", since all marriages require filing paperwork with the state prior to the marriage. Not with some church, but the state. All "sacramental" marriages, to be legally binding, require a marriage certificate, aka "wedding license", signed by the bride, groom, witnesses and the cleric performing the ceremony. The cleric is, in this case, performing a civil function under authority granted to him or her by law. It's the same authority granted to Justices of the Peace, who also perform wddings; the only difference is that with the cleric you get blessed by your preferred denominational deity.
NO cleric can perform a legally valid marriage in the US except when authorized to do so by the civil authority. The traditional "Do you take..." and "I do's" are about all that is required by law; any prayers, lectures, hymns, etc are permitted as part of the "free exercise of religion", but have NOTHING to do with making a marriage legally valid.

Posted by: Doug on October 28, 2010 at 8:24 PM | PERMALINK
"I support gay marriage" still equals "I don't really want to be president."

I don't believe that all this coy "for civil unions/against marriage equality" crap gains him one vote. Single issue voters who would oppose him because of gay marriage are opposed to him for a host of other issues anyway. The anti-gay haters see the Democrats as the pro-homo party despite all their Zenonian attempts to split-the-difference and never quite support true equality.

Posted by: treetop on October 28, 2010 at 9:01 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly