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06/30/2011

The President's Evolution: Another view

by Jeremy Hooper

As the topic of the President's marriage "evolution" continues to grab headlines, the prevailing assumption is that Barack Obama is on his way to full support for civil marriage equality, with the unanswered question marks surrounding 6A00D8341C503453Ef0154332A5Fcb970Cthe timeframe more than the outcome. Because "evolution" does imply growth, and most of us on the equality side do see full and equal marriage as the logical culmination of such maturation. Especially for someone like President Obama, who is so fully trained in constitutional law.

But just for intellectual exercise, let's adopt another view. Let's imagine a younger Barack Obama who did sign on to full support of marriage equality in 1996, back when the conversation was still so young and under-processed within the American consciousness. Then let's picture this Barack Obama rising through the ranks of Chicago politics within a post-DOMA Democratic party that was being beaten back by a strong religious right. As he made his way up the ladder and onto the national stage, Barack watched with interest as this subject of gay people's ring fingers stepped into the national spotlight right alongside his own meteoric rise. He listened to the arguments. He listened to his advisers. He listened to people within his faith community. He pinpointed the flaws he perceived (DOMA, for one) and clarified the support system he knew he wanted to back (some sense of fair treatment for same-sex couples). And after weighing all of his perceived pros and cons, balanced within the religious vs. civil marriage context that he so frequently references, Barack Obama decided he is, in fact, an out and proud supporter. Of civil unions only.

Is this a possibility? Is it within the realm of likelihood that he, a legal scholar and clearly brilliant mind, truly has gone through a series of steps that have told him civil unions really are the best outcome? That marriage should belong to churches and that civil unions are a perfectly fair compromise?

I would argue no, simply because my own evolution does not see, in any logical way, how someone who understands both American principles and the already-civil/church-separated institution of marriage could ever find a separate an unequal C.U. system as an acceptable endgame. But I'm not Barack Obama. And I know that I find myself frequently confounded by his messaging, even when considered through the realities of modern politics, both now and back during the 2008 campaign (when it was always about giving marriage to churches). So is it truly possible that while people like me have all but accepted that our President is in the midst of an evolution with one obvious and already-determined outcome, that he has, in fact, already completed the bulk of his Darwinian journey -- a journey that would truly prefer this whole thing to culminate in separate lines for gay and straight couples? Is it possible that we are being arrogant in our assumption that he'll naturally follow so many other Democrats who went from non-support to all-but-ready to officiate our ceremonies? Because I really don't see this President as a follower, actually. Could he be seeking to "evolve" all of our minds into accepting his view?

Again, I do think this is the unlikely view, and I think it's probably even naive to see this as a decision that would ever come down only to only his personal view rather than the larger socio-political considerations. But the fact is, we really don't know. And here in a time when so many of us are confounded by what we're hearing from 1600 Pennsylvania, perhaps it's smart to at least consider that the progress we see as so inevitable might not ever be in the Obama administration's "Hope" and "Change" plan. Because until we get a better sense otherwise, that's certainly a possibility.

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