President Obama refused to endorse same-sex marriage this week but left no doubt about what he truly believes.
At Wednesday press’s conference, he ticked off his efforts on behalf of gay rights: expanding the federal hate-crimes law; repealing the “don’t-ask-don’t-tell’’ restriction on openly gay soldiers; refusing to enforce the federal law denying recognition of same-sex marriages. He went on to praise the recent vote legalizing gay marriage in New York: “What you’re seeing is a profound recognition on the part of the American people that gays and lesbians and transgender persons are our brothers, our sisters, our children, our cousins, our friends, our coworkers, and that they’ve got to be treated like every other American.’’
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Pressed about his personal views on gay marriage, Obama said coyly, “I’m not going to make news on that today.’’
Another day, then. Obama hinted his conversion was underway in December, when he described his views on gay marriage as “constantly evolving.’’ (Frankly, the jig was up last week when Obama quoted Lady Gaga’s anthem Born This Way while headlining a New York fundraiser attended by hundreds of gay-rights activists.)
In politics, it’s all about waiting for the right moment, the right landing. Had Obama said the magic words at the New York event or at the press conference, which preceded a White House reception for Gay Pride Month, his endorsement would have looked like pander.
Facing a challenging reelection battle that will hinge on his stewardship of the economy, Obama can’t afford to look like he’s taking his eye off the ball. But as his former deputy press secretary Bill Burton put it, “Regardless of whom the Republican nominee is, President Obama’s position on gay rights will stand in stark contrast.’’
None of the major Republican candidates back gay marriage, and Jon Huntsman is the only one who backs same-sex civil unions. Voters who would turn against a candidate who endorsed same-sex marriage were never going to vote for Obama anyway.
Besides, pressure from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party isn’t going to let up.
Recent polls found that a thin or near majority of Americans accept gay marriage, a reversal from just a few years ago. Support is highest among certain groups of Obama-friendly voters, including liberals, young people, and college-educated whites. African-Americans and Hispanics, whose strong backing Obama needs to offset declining support among other voters, tend to oppose gay marriage. So do whites who lack college degrees, a group the president struggles to keep in his corner.
Exit polls showed 70 percent of African-Americans and 53 percent Hispanics voted to outlaw same-sex marriage in California in 2008, compared to 49 percent for whites. Researchers concluded the opposition from minorities was less about race and more about religious beliefs. As a black man and a Christian, Obama's reluctance to embrace gay marriage reflects the attitudes of those communities.
“It’s a sensitive topic among African-Americans because they don’t believe Scripture supports marriage between two men,’’ said the Rev. James Meeks, the founder of Salem Baptist Church in Chicago, the largest black church in Illinois. “My personal opinion is that he should stick with his current belief. I wouldn’t want him to be political about it.’’
But it’s become obvious that Obama’s personal beliefs go much further than he has been willing to acknowledge publicly. The political costs of coming out in favor of gay marriage seem minimal at this point, and Democratic strategists say blacks and Hispanics who oppose gay marriage are highly unlikely to turn against Obama over that one issue.
After all, how much longer can the president’s views on the issue be “constantly evolving?’’ Eventually, he is going to have to come clean.