Last week, President Obama surprised the world by announcing his support for marriage equality. The announcement was a cathartic moment for marriage equality activists like myself and the reaction of praise from the LGBT community and its allies has been well deserved.
As recently as a few weeks ago, I was on the pages of this newspaper offering a good dose of criticism of the president for failing to issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to add sexual orientation and gender identity to their nondiscrimination policies. Make no mistake, this should still be done and the president’s support of marriage equality diminishes the already weak arguments against it.
I’ve been critical of the president and what I have viewed as his lack of progress on LGBT issues. This announcement changes it all. For the first time, cynicism has become optimism for his re-election campaign. So many others clearly feel the same way. Within moments of the news, I started a donation page on the campaign website and in just over 24 hours, more than 100 people gave more than $13,500.
Strangely, the Log Cabin Republicans lambasted the president in one of the most bizarre press releases I have ever read. I suspect they are also behind the whisper campaign to distort the president’s position, creating confusion around whether marriage is a ‘state’ issue. Let me be clear: The president’s position is exactly the one sought by the most aggressive of activists.
The fact is that each state has its own marriage laws. The first time the federal government got into the business of defining marriage was when Republicans passed the Defense of Marriage Act. We are hopeful that courts will soon find that unconstitutional. It is also true that the U.S. Supreme Court will likely settle the marriage issue by overturning state marriage amendments because they are driven by animus and violate the U.S. Constitution. That is our end game.
Another important element of the president’s support for marriage equality is that countless young people who are struggling with their sexuality, as many of us once did, woke up to news that the president of the United States believed they should be fully equal in the eyes of the law. Many of these young people may not be hearing that from anyone else in their lives. This should not be overlooked.
Also, the president’s announcement was more of a moment of honesty than really the conclusion of an evolution of a political position. That he was finally willing to say out loud what many of us already believed was his position is a rare moment of honesty in the cynical world of Washington. This will inspire others to let go of their political fear and embrace marriage equality.
When the history of our movement is told, this will go down as a major moment in our struggle for LGBT equality. It feels like President Obama has finally earned his self-appointed title of “fierce advocate.” We must work to ensure his victory in November.
I fully believe that his position on marriage will be an asset heading into this year’s election. While economic issues will loom large, if Mitt Romney seeks to use our community and our freedom to marry as a wedge issue, it won’t work. There will be no other issue on which Romney clearly represents the past and Obama the future.
While we should fully commit to re-electing this president, we cannot also lose sight of the work that remains to be done that can have an immediate, material impact on the lives of LGBT people. For instance, he should immediately issue that executive order, which would cover 20 percent of the nation’s workforce and help to build the case for passage of ENDA next year.
We can both support our president and continue to press for progress on LGBT equality.