By Robert Schlesinger |
President Obama's support for same-sex marriage helps energize liberal and LGBT voters, but also helps the GOP rally social conservatives. To what degree, though, depends on whether or not this issue becomes a top-of-list swing state agenda item. This is an economy election. Given that only 4 percent of Republican primary voters ranked family values as the determining factor in their vote, it's going to be hard for Romney to make this one stick.
However, If swing state Republican congressional candidates effectively use same-sex marriage to draw voters to the polls, the associated turnout could scuttle Obama's chances of taking Florida, Ohio, and Virginia. A majority of the public in those states are not gay rights-friendly. The president can now count out North Carolina, which he snagged by 1 point in 2008, even with the National Democratic Convention in Charlotte this summer.
Electoral calculations should not influence an ostensibly progressive president's stance on an issue of equality. It should have been a given on day one of his term, and not been relegated to a three-and-a-half year process of evolution. If the history of the Civil Rights movement taught us anything, it was that presidents avoided acts of moral courage out of fear of losing votes. Woodrow Wilson refused to desegregate the federal workforce, and Franklin Roosevelt exempted African-Americans from the New Deal because of pressure from southern politicians. Dwight Eisenhower didn't act on the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling, letting the Little Rock protests reach a flashpoint in 1958, because he didn't want to anger deep South voters. Sometimes, though, you have to stand up for what's right, even if it means you lose.
The president made the right decision, but it's not one that deserves applause. Vice President Joe Biden's supportive comments last week, the North Carolina ballot referendum, and the House Republicans defense of DOMA have converged to knock him off the fence. The problem is, his statement should have come much sooner. His stance might have helped bring about the defeat of the referendum, or at the very least dispel the perception that he once again acted out of political pressure. It's this perception that he really needs to worry about in November.
About Jamie Chandler Professor at Hunter College
Evan Wolfson Founder and President of Freedom to Marry
Rea Carey Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force