Thursday, May 10, 2012

A revolutionary stand...

It was a moment I never expected to see in my lifetime.

Yesterday, in an interview with ABC News, President Obama said he believed same sex couples should have the same right to marry that is afforded to heterosexual couples.

"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," the president told Robin Roberts.

While many have questioned the timing of this statement, given the flak that the president had taken over the last few days following Vice President Biden stated his own support for marriage equality over the weekend, I'm not interested in analyzing why or when. I found myself getting choked up at my desk after hearing this announcement, because even though equality has been dealt setback after setback (most recently North Carolina voters approving a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman), a sitting president said he supported the rights of everyone to marry the person they love. Gay people are told (and shown) all too often that they should be considered second-class citizens, unworthy of equal (or in some cases, even human) treatment, so to hear my president tell me I deserve equal rights is pretty powerful.

Should he have made this statement earlier? Of course it would have been helpful. Of course Vice President Biden and Education Secretary Arne Duncan's public support for marriage equality may have forced the timing of this announcement. But I do believe there is some truth to the president's claims to have evolved on this issue; marriage is a covenant which many people prize as a religious one, whether or not that is what it truly is. Did he do this for political expediency? I don't see how people can make that argument. Given the volatility of this issue, the president is taking a major risk here, because even while his support of marriage equality may convince undecided liberal voters to now support his re-election, a significant portion of his base is composed of African-Americans and Catholics, and both groups have reiterated their belief that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. He might actually lose more voters than he gains. Additionally, if following this statement the Obama campaign makes no other moves toward support of marriage equality, this hypocrisy will doom him in the eyes of many voters who believe his statement was made with sincerity at its heart.

Mitt Romney has stated his intention to pursue a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage if he is elected president. President Obama has stated his support for marriage equality. The distinction doesn't get much clearer than that; time will tell just how deep the president's support runs. This is a man under whose leadership Don't Ask Don't Tell was abolished, and his administration has vowed to push for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. Heck, the man recorded an It Gets Better video.

But for people young and old struggling with their sexuality, questioning whether embracing who they are will make them less worthy in the eyes of their country, yesterday was a pretty exciting day. If someone had told the 12- or 16-year-old me who was dealing with emotional and physical abuse on an almost-daily basis, who questioned my self-worth, that the President of the United States would one day state his support for same-sex marriage, it would have made me feel just a little bit better.

Bravo, Mr. President. For now I will not question the whys and the whens, I will simply say a powerful and most heartfelt thank you.

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