Thursday, May 10, 2012

Obama finally opens door to gay marriage

US President Barack Obama
Barack Obama
Barack Obama's open support for gay marriage has not come as a surprise in the United States. The only thing that has raised eyebrows is how long it took the President to stumble towards a clear public affirmation of his position.
After three days of media and cajoling and speculation, Mr Obama told ABC TV: ''I've been going through an evolution on this issue. I've always been adamant that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly and equally.
''At a certain point, I just concluded that for me, personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think that same-sex couples should be able to get married.''
But when was that certain point? Gay marriage became a hot political topic for Mr Obama on Sunday morning when his Vice-President, Joe Biden, committed the political sin of stating an honestly held point. He believed, he said, gays had the right to marry.
While no one doubted this was the President's view, Mr Obama had yet to come out and say it. For days his spokesman Jay Carney was left telling reporters Mr Obama's view was ''unchanged'' or ''evolving''.
Reaction to his evolution in the US was mixed but Mitt Romney, the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, reiterated his opposition to gay marriage.
In spite of Mr Obama's changed stance, the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has not budged on the issue.
''I've made my mind up,'' Ms Gillard said yesterday. ''My view's not changing,'' she told ABC radio. ''I believe what I believe.''
Several federal MPs supported the President's about-face.
Mr Obama's Justice Department had actively worked around the Defence of Marriage Act that defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The result was the federal government had begun conferring the economic benefits of marriage to married gay couples where ever it could.
Mr Obama repealed Don't Ask Don't Tell, so gays could serve in the military, and his Attorney-General directed immigration officials to consider gay relationships in their decisions.
There has been a dramatic shift in public attitudes towards legalising gay marriage. In 2004, 43 per cent of the population thought it should be legal. Today, that figure is 52 per cent.
Mr Obama risks alienating conservative voters in swing states such as North Carolina (where a state constitutional ban on gay marriage passed with 60 per cent of voters on Tuesday) and Virginia. On the other hand, those voters knew where the President stood anyway.
He may antagonise some in the African-American community, which is far more resistant to gay marriage, but he will not lose their vote.
He can be certain of exciting his young urban base, the group that turned out for hope and change in 2008 and was crucial in securing him the presidency.