Thursday, May 10, 2012


Marriage is an outmoded institution. Historically, it has been little more than a way for those in power—the religious hierarchy, the aristocracy, and autocrats—to control the flow of wealth and influence. Marriage and the laws attached to it have helped perpetuate economic inequality, class discrimination, racism, sexism, and religious bigotry throughout the world. If you doubt any of this, I recommend you read a book called A History of Marriage, by Elizabeth Abbott. If you want more details about my opinion of marriage, see this earlier blog post.

Although I would not recommend marriage to anyone, I nevertheless am rather proud of President Obama for (finally) supporting gay marriage without equivocation. He has taken a principled stand that will cost him votes. How often have we been able to say that about a politician in an election year?

Obama's political advisors no doubt weighed the election impact of his coming out in favor of gay marriage. Here's my take on the political consequences of his pro-gay-marriage declaration:

Political Positives for Obama

1) It will please and energize the liberal base. The most radical Democrats (like me) have been impatiently waiting for him to make any number of politically risky policy decisions (see: closing Guantanamo, ending the Afghanistan War, cutting defense spending, revising the Patriot Act to protect personal privacy). This is the kind of thing we've been hungry for.

2) It will absolutely solidify gay support for him and bring out the gay vote. Historically, many gays have felt so under-represented that they stayed away from the voting booth altogether. Whether gays are 3% or 10% of the population (nobody knows), that's a significant number of voters who have not voted before but will vote this time. Gay Republicans, as well, may well vote for Obama this time. Even conservative writer Andrew Sullivan said he was moved to tears when Obama announced his support for gay marriage.

3) It could generate more participation among young voters. The college generation and Gen Xers generally support gay marriage.

4) It could generate more money for Obama from the liberal elite. Apparently he received millions of dollars in donations just in the hours after his announcement.

 5) It will make Romney seem more out-of-date, out-of-step, fogeyish, intolerant, and "Mormon" by comparison. Given the history of Mormonism (see: polygamy), it will be difficult for Romney to say much in defense of "traditional" marriage without seeming to deny his own heritage. If Republicans make a big deal about this, it will shift the political debate from the economy to social issues, where Obama is, in general, stronger than Romney, who is manacled to the Tea Party.

6) It makes Obama seem principled and above politics. Many American voters will find it refreshing to see a politician take any stand that is not dictated by the polls.

Political Negatives for Obama

1) It is a direct slap in the face to North Carolina. This state voted for the anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendment just this week. Even those who opposed the amendment will find Obama's timing offensive, as if he's intentionally thumbing his nose at their state's sentiments. His announcement could very well cost him this swing state.

2) It will cost him votes in the black and Hispanic church communities. These groups strongly oppose gay marriage. Losing any black votes could cost Obama the swing state of Virginia, which he barely won in 2008. Losing Hispanic votes will possibly cost him Colorado and Nevada, two other key swing states.

3) It will probably cost him Indiana. He had at least a slim chance of winning this religiously conservative state before. Now he has less chance.

4) It will energize the ultra-right. The Tea Partiers and the evangelicals will work even harder against him and flock to the polls to vote.

5) It could hurt him with lunch-pail voters. Less educated blue-collar workers in important swing states like Ohio and Wisconsin, many of whom like Obama for his resurrection of the auto industry, will find the pro-gay-marriage stance offensive. It may also hurt him with blue-collar voters in Pennsylvania.

6) It could hurt him with elderly voters. Older Americans poll against gay marriage, so they might use this as an excuse to vote against Obama in the most important swing state— Florida—which has a large elderly population.

On balance, Obama's coming out in favor of gay marriage hurts him, I think, more than it helps him electorally. His political advisors no doubt told him so. And yet he did it. I think the better of him for it.


(Note: Some liberals have expressed disappointment that Obama said gay marriage should be an issue decided by the states. They believe he should have supported a federal law or court decision making gay marriage a right protected by the U.S. Constitution and enforced by the federal government, like abortion and voting rights for African-Americans. Here's a link to such criticism. [Be sure to read the comments on this link as well as the original post.] I understand the position of these folks, but I believe that, given the historical context, they are asking too much and appreciating too little what the President has done.)

No comments:

Post a Comment