Political Animal


May 09, 2012 1:22 PM The Evolving Evolution

By Ed Kilgore

It’s entirely unclear whether it’s a matter of appropriate or really bad timing, but the president has hastily arranged an interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts this afternoon on an undisclosed set of topics. Speculation is spreading that Obama will take the occasion to clarify his position on same-sex marriage and related issues, after several days of media attention to the subject, spurred by what seem to have been off-message remarks from Joe Biden and Arne Duncan, followed by the landslide approval of Amendment One (which Obama had officially opposed) in North Carolina.

Insofar as the president has repeatedly described his views on gay marriage as “evolving” (presumably in a more progressive direction), it would be an excellent time for him to arrive at a clear and defensible destination. Recent polling on the topic indicates slowly growing support for marriage equality, with an underlying dynamic of ever-increasing partisan and generational polarization. Most notably, the latest Gallup survey showing a narrow 50-48 margin in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage showed independents approving legalization by a 57-40 margin.

Some observers have suggested that an immediate obstacle to the further “evolution” of Obama’s views is the relatively high level of opposition to marriage equality persisting among key elements of the Democratic “base,” particularly African-Americans and Hispanics. But the former are hardly going to defect from support of Obama over this issue. And the latter also have other fish to fry; it’s unlikely that large numbers of Democratic-leaning Hispanics will overlook Mitt Romney and the GOP’s troublesome positions on immigration and the economy in order to defect over gay marriage (or for that matter, abortion).

More to the immediate point, Obama may no longer have the luxury of “evolving,” given the steadily mounting pressure to place a commitment to marriage equality in the 2012 Democratic platform. Any move by the White House to squelch that effort will be viewed as a sign of hostility rather than thoughtfulness.

You could say the vote in NC showed how toxic this subject remains for an Obama campaign trying to hold onto the states it won in 2008. But you could also say it shows a highly nuanced position on the subject—yes to this, no to that, maybe to this—is not helpful, either, since Tar Heel State voters approved a ballot initiative contradicting their own apparent support for civil unions as opposed to same-sex marriage.

All in all, it would appear to be time for the president to speak plainly. Looking at the larger landscape of issues, there are worse things that could happen to him than a 2012 general election in which the positions of the two parties on cultural freedom suddenly become relevant to voters.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Hedda Peraz on May 09, 2012 1:35 PM:

    Some of "you" do things I do not care to indulge in. Sing opera in the shower, play golf, consume illicit substances.
    However, it is none of business. Just don't do it in my front yard.

  • K in VA on May 09, 2012 1:38 PM:

    Hedda Peraz @ 1:35: Are you flaunting your heterosexuality? If so, please get out of your front yard and do your flaunting in private.

  • Anonymous on May 09, 2012 1:57 PM:

    Hedda Peraz @ 1:35: Tell me. What kinds of illicit substances are available in your front yard?

  • c u n d gulag on May 09, 2012 1:59 PM:

    I'm 100% for all gay rights.
    And I wish the President was too - or, that he'd gone "all in" earlier, in a non-Presidential election year.

    Doing this now, may not be in his best interests.
    I think Obama has more to lose than to gain if he came out for marriage equality too much.

    Here's why:
    As I think everyone here knows if you look at any state and national map that shows election results, youll find most cities are D, most rural areas, R, and the suburbs increasingly going D.

    Gay rights is a little different, in that the anti-gay forces have focused on African-and-Hispanic Americans on this issue, where homophobia is already strong.

    On gay rights issues, the suburbs stay pretty D blue, in some cases, even bluer, the rural parts stay very R red, and its the cities that turn more R red.

    I think, and I may be wrong, that 2012 may well be a reprise of 2004, and that Rs will use gay rights, in this case, marriage, as a wedge issue.
    In that election year, the wedge issue of gay rights finished 2nd only to national security which is certainly a legitimate concern though not in the way the Bush crime family used color-coded terror warning to manipulate voters through fear.

    In 2012, homophobia will be right up there with racism in their wedge issue bag-of-tricks.

    What else have Rs got to run ON?
    They can only run AGAINST!

    I sure hope I'm wrong on this!

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on May 09, 2012 2:02 PM:

    Hey, Ed, any numbers yet as to the turnout of voters for the NC primary? This was a primary--not general presidential election--so I'd hate for us to be making sweeping assessments regarding what general election NC voters will collectively think of gay marriage and, by extension, whatever stance Obama decides to align with... FWIW, we can take the results at face value, but I think there's a tactical reason why this was on a primary rather than general election ballot.

  • Felicia on May 09, 2012 2:10 PM:

    When I hear white people like Ed Kilgore and Ed Rendell say Obama won't lose the black vote if he comes out in support of gay marriage, I want to put my fist through the t.v./computer screen. This evidences the racial bias of some pundits. The majority of blacks are devout Chistians and they do not support gay marriage. Many of these people will NOT vote for Obama if he comes out in support of gay marriage. This doesn't mean they will vote for Romney. It just means that they will not show up at the polls in November. Obama losing 20% of the black vote would mean he could lose states like Indiana and North Carolina. Quit saying blacks will line up behind Obama not matter what. It's insulting.

    I support gay marriage, but I have had to talk a lot of family members down who expressed concerned about Obama's support of gay rights. I'm ashamed of my community's homophobia, but it's there. And not acknowledging there is a problem--both by pundits like Ed and black leaders--is part of the problem. That's why I admire the recent efforts of the NAACP.

  • hornblower on May 09, 2012 2:13 PM:

    This progressive couldn't care less about gay marriage. I think the news media has turned up on this issue much more than the average American. When marriage becomes a Federal issue and not a state one I would expect a President to take a stand. Absent that he should be able to punt.

  • DAY on May 09, 2012 2:31 PM:

    It is sad that someone would NOT vote for (or stay home) a candidate because of a difference of belief! I am pro choice, and pro LGBT, but they are not a litmus test when I enter the polling place. I judge a candidate as an entirely.

    As Hedda said earlier, just don't do it in my front yard. (Unless, as Limbaugh suggested, you make a video for my enjoyment. . .)

  • T2 on May 09, 2012 2:32 PM:

    look no further than Dick Lugar to see the political landscape. The TeaBagRepublican Party would be THRILLED to make Gay Marriage the point of their attack against re-electing Obama. Why give them that? They have nothing, and the Media would love nothing better than to force Obama into giving them something that would be a big hammer to beat him with. It is more important to re-elect Obama than to have him strongly support something that could get him beat, when he doesn't need to.

  • Kathryn on May 09, 2012 2:43 PM:

    T2 and gulag are right. What I'd like to know is why Joe Biden can't open his mouth without stepping in it, I like the guy but good grief, zip it Joe. He's made this the story for three days now. I guess we should all be grateful he's not Secretary of State.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on May 09, 2012 2:44 PM:

    Ahhh, the black vote. This reminds of when gay marriage was such a wedge issue in 2004, and it was speculated that many black voters voted for Bush because of said issue. And then, whaddaya know, some of the same black voters had the gall to applaud Kanye West for the infamous "Bush don't like black people" comment...

    Maybe this doesn't bode well...

  • J-NC on May 09, 2012 3:06 PM:

    @Sgt Gym Bunny,

    Turnout was about 34%. High for a primary, low for the general. I haven't seen anything about party breakdown of the vote.

    You are correct about the tactical reasoning for this being on a primary ballot. We got an overwhelmingly GOP legislature after 2010, but they needed some ConservaDem reps to override the Gov's veto on this. The price was to move it to the primary so it wouldn't impact those same Dems in the general. GOP was happy to do it since theirs was the only presidential primary that might matter and they expected more GOP than Dem voters.

    It's a familiar refrain seen in other states. Got a big GOP majority (first in a century) after they ran on jobs, jobs, jobs. Then they pushed one social hot-button issue after another. Yep, we got an ultrasound law too, passed with the help of Dems over the Governor's veto. I was surprised they weren't stupid enough to help the GOP override the Gov on voter ID.

  • Felicia on May 09, 2012 3:23 PM:

    @Day: I agree with you. I'm pro-choice and pro-gay rights. Unfortunately, in the black community that's not a majority opinion. I hear homophobia from my family and from my college students (at a predominantly black university). This is a battle Obama doesn't need six months before the election.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on May 09, 2012 3:32 PM:

    @J-NC: Thanks for the info.