President’s Gay Decision Waits for the Rest of America

President Barack Obama finally did it.

He maxed out on his evolution on the issue of gay marriage. He’s for it, without equivocation.

This came right as the president revved up his startup activities for his re-election campaign. The announcement--” 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”--didn’t leave a whole lot of wriggle room.

Whatever the reason for the announcement and decision--Joe “Loose Lips” Biden’s rather casual statement of support for gay marriage on “Meet the Press,” no less, or supporter dissatisfaction with Obama’s slow evolution-- it was a historic move, and one bound to affect the presidential campaign.

Presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney was quick to respond that he believed that marriage was defined as being between “one man and one woman,” and that’s probably not his last word on the subject, one way or another, or another.

Gay and lesbian rights activists--who cheered the president’s long anticipated and hoped-for announcement-- hope that these are not the Obama’s last words on the subject and that words will lead to some sort of action.

What that might be is unclear. Will he provide actual leadership--moral, rhetorical, executive or whatever--on the issue? Obama has said that he prefers the process winds itself out on the state level, where the issue presents itself in confusing fashion. North Carolina, only days before, held a vote in which voters banned not only gay marriage but civil unions as well. More than 30 states have passed laws banning gay marriage, while only a handful passed laws allowing gay marriage. On the other, national polls indicate that Americans are divided on the issue, on a 50-50 level.

The opposition to gay marriage tends to be conservative, evangelical, religious and skews older, while support for gay marriage skews younger.

It’s not difficult to understand why many otherwise reasonable people might not support gay marriage on theological grounds. The president’s support--the first by an American president ever--is important for its historical nature, but it does not clarify the conflict. Gay and lesbian rights represents a kind of last frontier on the issue of the role and identity of the other in American society, a last line in the sand on opponents.

The president’s decision, arrived at perhaps sooner than he would have liked in terms of the election campaign, appears to have been based on experience and perception, with the opinion of his children weighing strongly in the decision. I suspect that’s the kind of thinking that also weighs strongly in the opinions of most reasonable Americans. A majority of Americans, I suspect, do not oppose civil or partnership rights--inheritance, property, wills and other legal matters--but balk when it comes to marriage, and issues of family and children. I suspect that, beyond issues of religious beliefs, that opposition is not entirely rational, that it’s grounded in fear of the other and a kind of primitive reaction when it comes to sexual matters.

The idea that family--a mother, a father, children--are the ideal and traditional social, cultural and moral norm in the United State is a belief that is clung to almost fanatically and is belied strongly by the statistical facts of an over 50-percent divorce rate, a high number of children raised by single parents, and so on. I suspect, too, that the idea of gay people marrying and creating family units is a process that brings gays into the American mainstream as opposed to leaving them exiled on the fringes of societal norms. It’s an idea difficult to accept for large parts of American society which may have never encountered a gay person except on television or in movies.

I suspect until most Americans can expand the idea of what an American family may and can look like and accept it, the issue of gay marriage will remain volatile, intense and divisive.

One thing you can tell politically from President Obama’s tortured evolution to a decision point and to the muted GOP reply--Romney called the issue “a very tender and sensitive topic”-- is that the issue is like the fellow or the gal without a date at the prom. Everyone is reluctant to dance with them, but sooner or later, they’re going to be playing their song. President Obama, in his announcement, appears to have heard the music.

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Fri, 25 Jul 2014 05:03:41 -0400

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