By Bob Cesca: I don’t often make predictions in politics. It’s an exercise usually reserved for pundits who have an insecure obsession with being omniscient.– the first head on the block to accurately guess something that’s almost unpredictable.
But on the issue of same-sex marriage, I feel rather confident in the prediction that in a would-be President Obama second term, the president will make a serious effort to dismantle or entirely repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and he’ll publicly endorse state-level referendums to make same-sex marriage legal in the remaining states which are currently holding back the LGBT community as second-class citizens.
All along, I’ve suspected the president’s “evolution” on same-sex marriage has been misunderstood, even by his closest advisers.
It’s clear that early on, the president didn’t personally support the notion of same-sex marriage. But this president, like many of his predecessors, knows that personal bias doesn’t always translate to good public policy (Lincoln, for example, was a racist by modern standards, and yet he freed the slaves).
His personal slowness on marriage equality could have been motivated either by religion or politics — the latter being indicative of most politicians who, for many years, thought of support for certain gay rights as political suicide. Shocker — yes, the president has political motivations on certain issues. Every politician from Bernie Sanders to Marco Rubio is partly or mostly driven by the direction of the wind. Politics makes it possible to change things. It’s the ugly process that leads to sometimes not-ugly results. Some of our greatest leaders used underhanded if not criminal means to subsequently enact globally important legislation.
The president is currently tasked with winning re-election in order to achieve various goals including a roll-back of 30 years of Reaganomics, to name one. In order to achieve a second term, he has to win states that contain voting demographics that are unsupportive of same-sex marriage but, ironically, the votes of those unsupportive demos could spearhead that equality.
In other words, North Carolina, where same-sex marriage isn’t necessarily a high priority as evidenced by yesterday’s referendum against it, could win the election for the president and, thus, allow him to act on same-sex marriage in his second term. (Incidentally, and importantly, the president expressed opposition to the passage of the referendum.) But he can’t possibly campaign on that issue there or else the wedge could backfire against him. This is commonly referred to as “political reality” — the on-the-ground vote-counting truth that is always priority number one in the pursuit of legislative change.
Regardless, whatever the president might believe personally — not politically — is mostly irrelevant. What truly matters on this issue is specifically what the president does, or intends to do, in the public milieu. And while re-election is always on the mind of a first term president, this president has taken a long roster of very serious political risks on the path towards expanding LGBT civil rights. For example:
-President Obama signs the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law — the first federal civil rights legislation to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity”
-President Obama releases the first-ever National HIV/AIDS Strategy
-President Obama signs the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act
-HHS issues recommendations to improve the health and well-being of LGBT communities
-Despite challenging budgetary times, the President’s Fiscal Year 2012 Budget not only maintains, butincreases domestic HIV/AIDS funding
-The Department of Commerce signs a Memorandum of Understanding with National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce to support federal contracting and exporting
-The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announces that gender identity is a prohibited basis of discrimination in federal employment
-President Obama expands federal benefits for same-sex partners of federal employees
-OPM allows same-sex domestic partners to apply for long-term care insurance
-President Obama sends the first U.S. Executive branch official to testify in support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) before Congress
-President Obama continues to appoint LGBT Americans to positions at every level throughout his Administration
-President Obama signs the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010, which will allow gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans to serve openly and with integrity
-The U.S. lifts the discriminatory entry ban for individuals with HIV
-President Obama and his administration play active roles in protecting LGBT populations in Uganda,Honduras, Malawi and other countries
-The U.S. leads an effort at the United Nations resulting in 85 countries supporting a resolution to end violence and human rights violations related to sexual orientation and gender identity
-President Obama honors the 40th Anniversary of Stonewall riots
-President Obama awards the Medal of Freedom to Harvey Milk and Billie Jean King Supporting LGBT Progress
-President Obama has called for the Congressional repeal of the discriminatory “Defense of Marriage Act” and has announced that in his view, Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional
There’s actually more than this, but I’ve omitted some items for the sake of brevity.
These aren’t the actions of a leader who’s intending to stop short of marriage equality — especially when he has very little to lose once elected to a second term.
But when we hear about certain LGBT activist groups holding back fundraising for the president because of a mandatory political calculation, and in spite of a long list of successes, it comes off as petulant and self-defeating. If the president loses his re-election bid, you can rest assured that many of the items I listed above will be rolled back and overturned and, more importantly, same-sex marriage will suffer a major setback that could last a decade or more.
Marriage equality will absolutely happen within the next four years provided the president is re-elected. That’s a prediction I will stand by, and I will graciously welcome all of the most negative comments in the world if I’m wrong.
UPDATE: The following news broke minutes after posting this column. In an ABC News interview, the president expressed his support for same-sex marriage:
“I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.”
Now the question is what, specifically, does the president have the power to do about state-level laws?