Jonathan Capehart, writing this week in the Washington Post, made many strong points regarding the passage of marriage equality in New York.
I agree with him when he writes, “Cuomo’s victory in New York has raised the bar on leadership and the gay community’s expectations. Patience with Obama’s evolutionary process has run out.” But I disagree when he says, “Unlike Cuomo, the president doesn’t have a coalition of gay and lesbian groups and deep-pocketed donors all working together to get him to say ‘I do’ and to have his back after he does it.”
It may be unfortunate that HRC rushed its Obama endorsement in its effort to raise millions of dollars for him before he “evolves,” but if Obama quietly indicated to a group of individuals that he was ready to “fully evolve,” the group that Capehart says isn’t there would be formed quickly.
There are many groups of donors, both large and small, and an army of volunteers ready to have his back. The young on college campuses are just waiting for an issue to excite them and get them as involved in this election as they were in 2008 and the debate over the economy isn’t doing it. Recent polls of youth show that they overwhelmingly support marriage equality, by as much as 75 percent. This is the type of issue that can excite them. There are also politicians and clergy in every state who will join with just plain folk who are ready to have his back on this issue. The coalition forged in New York included Republicans, Democrats and independents and that coalition can be forged nationally on this issue when the president is ready to lead. All the national polling shows that this issue is no longer a losing one. All indications point to the fact that those who will decide their vote on this issue alone will most likely not vote for President Obama anyway.
The president won’t be considered a leader on this issue as long as he is making innocuous statements about wanting full rights and then saying he leaves it to the people in each state to fight it out. At some point soon he will have to change from avoiding the issue, to letting people close to him know he is ready to come out in support of marriage equality and ask for their help in working behind the scenes to build that coalition of support that will have his back.
I understand and respect that by nature President Obama is a careful and thoughtful person. After all, he was a constitutional law professor. But on this issue many think he has already evolved.
The president should take some pointers from the way New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo spoke to groups on marriage equality. Cuomo urged those who were uncomfortable with the word marriage to focus instead on the second word, equality, and make their decision of support based on that. It is said that among those who influenced Cuomo on this issue were his girlfriend and his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, who reportedly said to his son, “What is it you want to be remembered for in your first six months as governor, balancing the budget or moving forward civil rights for millions of Americans?” Andrew Cuomo chose the latter and I believe in his heart that Barack Obama would have done the same.
It is time for the president to assume the mantle of leadership. While some say it is already too late on this issue I disagree. There is a long way to go before all gay and lesbian Americans are able to marry and enjoy all the rights and responsibilities civil marriage confers.
With the right background work and preparation the president and his wife (and yes this is a place where I hope that Michelle Obama will join with her husband) should be able to stand in front of the TV cameras and speak to the nation about equality and what full equality and civil rights means for all Americans. The president should tell the nation that when some of our people are not fully free and equal under our civil laws, no one is.
There are millions of people out there of all parties, all faiths, all ages, with millions of dollars, who will have his back when he indicates that he is ready to lead on marriage equality.