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03/07/2013

Shortsighted scapegoaters shapelessly shaft President Obama's shifting

by Jeremy Hooper

Has President Obama shifted his position on marriage over the years? Yes and no.

I say yes because he's clearly gone from seemingly supporting marriage equality while a state senator to opposing it when running for president to now supporting it with a full Screen Shot 2013-03-07 At 8.43.12 Am throat. From a political policy and/or public relations standpoint, it's fair to say that he has flipped. Or evolved, as popular parlance more fittingly puts it.

But I also say no because it's most likely that Barack Obama, the human being who's held various titles over the past three decades, has been logically consistent within his own head. I've always believed this man, a constitutional lawyer by trade, personally supported the freedom to marry even if this senator or this president could not say so. He needed to get elected and the sad political reality up until the past few years (or at least the perception thereof) was that a candidate, even a progressive-leaning Democrat, could not get elected to national office if he or she took a publicly supportive stance on marriage equality. Barack Obama, working off the advice of a managerial cadre, took the nuanced positions and spoke the shaped messages that he and his team felt he had to speak.


Now, I don't want to fully excuse that second component. I will forever believe that if supportive politicians from the late '90s through the Bush era had stood up and spoke up more forcefully (but fairly) on this issue, we could've beaten back a lot of it. It's getting harder to remember here in 2013, but the reality is that we had virtually no national-level political support just a few short years ago. When I started G-A-Y back in 2005, this was certainly the case. We had Feingold and Kennedy in the Senate, and that was about it. There was more support in the House, but it was nothing close to ardent. And keep in mind, this is when we were getting viciously slammed on both the state and national level. These were the "man on dog" years; we could have used some help.

Let me say it again: I will not excuse this political negligence, and I will always consider the silence unjust.


Having said that, let me now acknowledge the other reality: the opposition that forced these sad political realities into fruition. If you are a regular reader of G-A-Y (and if you've read this far, you likely are), you don't need much more insight into the "traditional family research marriage values [insert nice-sounding word]" groups that oppose us on a daily second-by-second basis. These groups are still slighting us at every turn, even here at a time when there is compelling evidence that their work is actually harming their overall political movement. But if it's bad now (and let's be clear: it still is), it was even worse (but in a different way) back when the conservatives were in charge of everything. In those days, when these groups literally had access to a White House eager to do their bidding, these organizations bullied anyone who dare try to buck their trend and gloated about what they seemed to think was an unshakeable support system. If a candidate with national prominence would've come out for full marriage equality at that time, I can only imagine the ferocity with which this broad coalition would've attacked.

Our potentially supportive politicos gave in to a sad political reality, yes—but they did not create it. The main reason why a personally supportive candidate had to check his or her principles before putting up a campaign sign was (and still is, in many cases) because these "traditional family research marriage values [insert nice-sounding word]" groups would (and do) bring holy hellfire upon the candidacy of said supporter. By holy hellfire, I mean condemnation, yes. More than that, however, I mean PAC money, campaign ads, nasty mailers that position the candidate as anti-family, smear campaigns on cable TV, offensive Op-Eds, retribution on any staffer who dares work with this candidate, and full-on political assaults against the public servant and his or her character. For someone who wanted to get into or retain office because he or she felt an urgency to effect change in several different areas, I get why he or she might've stayed out of this costly fight in order to achieve electability. Even if I hate that game, I get it (and certainly got it at the time).


Why am I rehashing all of this now? Well, because in the wake of the Obama Administration's amicus brief in support of marriage equality, we are starting to see a familiar theme pop up within these very same "traditional family research marriage values [insert nice-sounding word]" groups that have been fighting us on this issue for the past two decades. The new gloat is about President Obama's "flip-flopping" and how it's supposedly a sign of weak character. Take this one (please) from the Family Research Council's Peter Sprigg:

The number of flip-flops President Obama has now performed on the issue of marriage would be impressive for an Olympic gymnast. He was for homosexual marriage (in a 1996 Illinois state Senate campaign), then against it (in his 2008 presidential run), then for it again (in a widely publicized interview last May). His administration said the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was constitutional, then decided in 2011 it was unconstitutional. Now the president, who said last May that the issue should be decided at the state level, is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn California's law on the issue.
FULL: Obama's acrobatics on homosexual 'marriage' [Wash Times via FRC]

Like any number of social conservatives, Sprigg's basic premise is that President Obama is somehow shady because of his evolving public position. Unable to beat him on messaging, polling, or at the ballot box, these "values voices" are now trying to get President Obama on character. It's like they've "found him out" or something.

Only thing? THEY. CAUSED. THIS. Peter Sprigg is the same Peter Sprigg who was working for the same Family Research Council that spent the better part of the aughts going after anyone who dared stand up for LGBT people. In fact, FRC was a major ringleader—the org. that would host big webcast events ("Justice Sunday," etc) that brought together any number of other groups and figures who would just drill these discriminatory views into the American public's head. On this issue, there were no bigger sharks in the political waters! A candidate who dared to look this massive, well-financed coalition in the eye and still stand up for full marriage equality needed principle, yes. Unfortunately, he or she also needed a crap ton of money to ever beat back the inevitable attack campaigns that this coalition would bring upon his or her race. In some cases, in some races, the math simply didn't add up.

THEY. CAUSED. THIS. Our marriage debate is a farce because they turned it into one. This could have been an adult conversation with dissenting views on the civil marriage rights of tax-paying citizens. This didn't have to be the uber-charged debate of our times. Just about every civil marriage equality supporter would've been 100% willing to grant all of the religious freedoms, exceptions, and speech and expression rights that the far-right conservatives deserve. But that wasn't good enough. They wanted to score points and raise funds. In the process, they were willing to destroy careers. And don't let me put this all in past context, either; the National Organization For Marriage still threatens anyone, particularly on the Republican side of things, who stands up for marriage equality.


If President Obama has done acrobatics, then that is in fact on his legacy. When the documentaries are filmed in ten or twenty years, there will be talk of him having to find his voice on this matter. The good news is that the narrative music, which will start pensive if not slightly ominous, will ultimately give way to happy, feel good tones (Gaga, likely). He, like a growing number of others, found his principled voice and felt like he could weather the storms that did (and do) still come.

But when that documentary is filmed, the harsher shading will deservedly fall on those "traditional family research marriage values [insert nice-sounding word]" groups and figureheads who decided that this issue was a political third rail for which they would scapegoat and publicly flog (metaphorically, of course) any prominent voice who dared have a dissenting opinion. They are the ones who have forced our society to blow billions of dollars—literally, billions, with a "b"—countless resources, and considerable good will on what could have and should have been a fair-minded, high-minded, measured conversation about a topic we needed to work out. THEY. CAUSED. THIS. SAD. STATE. OF. AFFAIRS.

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