It’s been painful to watch various White House spokespeople over the past week twist themselves into knots trying to explain President Obama’s flip-flop on marriage equality.
In 1996, while running for a seat in the Illinois state Senate, Obama stated in a written questionnaire that he supports same-sex marriage. Obama wrote, “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.”
That infamous questionnaire has haunted him ever since and re-emerged this week as a series of spokespeople tried to minimize its importance.
First up was White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer, who didn’t do such a good job of communicating while speaking at Netroots Nation in Minneapolis.
He suggested the questionnaire response was not written by Obama, asserting that the survey, “was actually filled out by someone else, not the president.”
Then Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, issued a statement clarifying that Pfeiffer “was not familiar with the history of the questionnaire.”
Finally, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was drawn into the dispute under questioning from the Blade’s Chris Johnson. Carney said that Pfeiffer was mistaken and was referring to some other, unnamed questionnaire during his Netroots remarks.
Meanwhile, with the president headed to New York this week for a first-of-its-kind 2012 campaign fundraiser with the LGBT community, some are demanding that Obama endorse marriage equality in exchange for all the gay money about to flow his way.
Add to the equation the fact that it’s Pride month and the New York Legislature is debating a marriage rights bill this week and we have arrived at the perfect storm of events and timing. Obama should take advantage of the serendipity and finally say publicly what we all know he believes privately: that same-sex couples deserve the same rights as Anthony Weiner, Newt Gingrich, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Clinton and all the other cheaters and hypocritical scumbags out there.
There’s no point in waiting for a re-election victory to announce support for marriage equality. The people who would vote against Obama for his views on marriage rights aren’t going to support him anyway. A slight majority of the country now supports marriage equality, according to recent polls. And, with the economy continuing its stubborn slide, the 2012 election will not be won or lost on social issues.
In addition, Obama’s refusal to evolve on the issue gives cover to our opponents on the right, who routinely cite the president’s opposition to marriage equality in state fights from California to New York to Maryland.
The idea that Obama can’t quite get there on marriage is absurd, given that his own administration won’t defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court. That move has forced the hand of House Republicans, who are scrambling to find the money to pay for a pricey private attorney to continue the fight for discrimination. Make no mistake that the Republicans don’t want to carry on that fight too publicly for too long. They know that marriage is a losing issue for them — advocating anti-gay discrimination doesn’t play with the independent voters who decide elections. And as more and more prominent Republicans endorse marriage equality, it’s only a matter of time before the party will have to abandon its anti-gay platform language.
Unfortunately, the tactics of marriage equality activists don’t always help. Last week at Netroots Nation, former Army officer Dan Choi tore up an Obama campaign pamphlet and flung the pieces at a volunteer during a panel discussion. The melodramatic outburst minimizes the myriad accomplishments of Obama’s administration, from repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to declaring DOMA unconstitutional. Sometimes there’s a fine line between advocacy and grandstanding. There are more effective ways to push Obama on marriage than to attack and embarrass low-level campaign volunteers.
The upside to all the mainstream media attention now being focused on Obama’s marriage views is that by the next presidential election, it will be untenable for a Democratic presidential nominee to oppose marriage equality. Better to be on the right side of history and consistent with that 1996 questionnaire than to continue playing this silly game.
Come on, Mr. President, we know where you stand. Just say it out loud.