Obama under pressure to state position on gay marriage

Wed, May 9, 2012, 01:00

The US president, who is being reproached for his ‘timidity’, fears losing votes in key states if he backs same-sex unions

US PRESIDENT Barack Obama’s reluctance to state his position on same-sex marriage dominated headlines for a second day yesterday, when the chairman of the Democratic caucus in the House of Representatives said: “A vast majority of our caucus is where [US vice-president Joe] Biden is.”

John Larson, a Democrat from Connecticut, referred to statements supporting gay marriage by Mr Biden on May 6th.

The US secretaries for education and housing have also publicly expressed support for what Democrats refer to as “marriage equality”.

The vice-president’s remarks have pushed same-sex marriage to the forefront of political debate at an inopportune time for Mr Obama. During the 2008 campaign, Mr Biden’s forthright comments were known as “Joe bombs”.

The president fears losing independent, Hispanic and black voters if he supports gay marriage. But he stands to lose substantial donations and volunteers from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community if he refuses to take a position. Mr Obama will be confronted by the same question at a 700-guest LGBT gala in Los Angeles next month.

“I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying one another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties,” Mr Biden told NBC.

It was, as the Washington Post noted, “the classic Washington gaffe of accidentally speaking the truth”.

Caroline Kennedy, a co-chair of Mr Obama’s re-election committee, has joined other prominent Democrats in calling for same-sex marriage to be part of the Democratic Party platform.

Mr Obama’s actions speak louder than words, the White House says. He reversed the military’s discriminatory “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and ordered the justice department to abandon the Defence of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. If elected, Republican candidate Mitt Romney has promised to pass the act.

But leading media yesterday reproached Mr Obama for what the New York Times called his “timidity” on the issue. Mr Biden’s comments were “a big step forward from the endlessly frustrating hedging of President Obama”, the Times said.

“It should make it harder for Mr Obama to cling to the tired evasion that his views on marriage are ‘evolving’.”

There is a widespread perception that Mr Obama’s silence is a matter of political expediency. “At some point moral questions break the bounds of calculation and come down to something more elemental: courage and commitment,” said Bloomberg News.

Most opinion polls show a small majority of Americans now support same-sex marriage. A Gallup poll published yesterday showed that 50 per cent believe it should be legal; 48 per cent say it should not.

Mr Obama “retreated, even as the nation has advanced”, Frank Bruni wrote in the New York Times.

When Mr Obama was a candidate for the Illinois state senate in 1996, he wrote in a gay newspaper: “I favour legalising same-sex marriages and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.”

Although he has delighted in Mr Obama’s predicament this week, the issue is awkward for Mr Romney too. The Romney campaign has disowned a pink flier bearing Mr Romney’s name and endorsing “equal rights” for “all citizens” from a gay pride weekend in Massachusetts in 2002, when he was standing for governor.

Mr Romney’s foreign policy spokesman, Richard Grenell, who is openly gay, resigned on May 1st. He was sidelined after conservative groups criticised his appointment. Mr Grenell had earlier worked for George W Bush’s hardline ambassador to the UN, John Bolton.

Bryan Fischer, a conservative radio talkshow host and one of those who spoke against Mr Grenell’s support for gay marriage, said: “If Mitt Romney can be pushed around, intimidated, coerced, co-opted by a conservative radio talkshow host in middle America, then how is he going to stand up to the Chinese? How is he going to stand up to Putin?”

Mr Obama’s campaign strategists, David Axelrod and David Plouffe, reportedly fear that a stand in favour of same-sex marriage could lose votes for Mr Obama in key swing states.

Several, including Florida, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia, are among 30 states that have passed amendments banning gay marriage.

North Carolina, which Mr Obama won by a tiny margin in 2008, was expected yesterday to pass Amendment One, which would ban not only same-sex marriage but civil unions and domestic partnerships as well.

Democrats will hold their convention in North Carolina in September.

Evangelist Billy Graham (93), a native North Carolinian, published full-page advertisements supporting the amendment in 14 newspapers.

“The Bible is clear,” he wrote. “God’s definition of marriage is between a man and a woman. I want to urge my fellow North Carolinians to vote for the marriage amendment.”