President Barack Obama has become the first U.S. president to openly support full rights for gay couples, including same-sex marriage.
The president’s remarks during an interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts took many pundits by surprise, not because he supported same-sex marriage, but because his endorsement was direct rather than tacit. Some political observers had predicted Obama would try to avoid being pinned down on the issue until after the November election.
The rug may have been pulled out from under Obama over the weekend after Vice President Joe Biden, in an interview, publicly backed same-sex marriage, providing ammunition for gay campaign donors who had been pressuring the president to take a public stand for gay rights.
Obama said his position has evolved over time and became clearer after a period of personal reflection, relationships with gay staffers and conversations with his family.
“I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” Obama said in the interview with Roberts.
Many assume – and the Republican Party hopes – that gay marriage is likely to severely weaken black support for the president, but there also are indications that Obama’s remarks on Wednesday were not necessarily a deal breaker.
Joe Williams wrote for Politico that a coalition of conservative activists and African-American ministers helped drive black turnout in a ballot initiative in the swing state of North Carolina, which on Tuesday approved a measure that defined marriage as being between a man and a woman.
Ad campaigns that compared the vote to black Americans’ struggle for civil rights, also struck a nerve among black voters, who find any such link offensive.
Still, Williams wrote, a Pew Center poll released in April showed that the black community nationally is less opposed to gay marriage in 2012 than in 2008. Four years ago, 67 percent of black respondents opposed gay marriage. That number dropped to 49 percent by 2012.
“This law also puts the screws to domestic straight couples, which means a lot of common-law arrangements in (North Carolina) are going to get a wakeup call when they try to exercise their previously assumed rights. Just because you say you're married, doesn't mean you're legally married,” wrote a freelance writer in New Jersey who asked not to be identified because he has taken heat in his local community about the issue.
And while many assume the black church will be opposed to Obama’s remarks, there are black ministers and divinity students who support the president’s position.
“As a minister who supports Marriage Equality and has officiated over 20 weddings of same-gender-loving couples--I am proud of President Obama's decision,” said the Rev. Susan Newman, PhD, associate minister at All Souls (Unitarian) Church in Washington, D.C.
“This is a victorious declaration that you can be Pro-God and Pro-Gay!” Newman said in an email interview.
“I strongly feel that the president's ‘coming out’ in support of same-sex marriage is a wonderful experience that will be etched in the books of history,” said Quincy James Rinehart, who has a masters of divinity from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta.
“For so long,” Rineheart said, “we have been told that homosexuality is a ‘sin’ and that if we do not repent (whatever that means) we will go to hell. Repentance for me is more of a change in consciousness, not per se an act of denigration. To have a president who believes in human rights, means a lot to me as a black man, but also as a gay male. To have a president who understands the importance of identity, who is willing to raise his voice for the oppressed, stretches far beyond discrimination. I think we have a responsibility to not only support the president's idea, but we have a moral obligation to continue to raise our voices for the cause of justice.”
Aquarius D. Gilmer, also a graduate of the Candler School at Emory, and a self-described “social entrepreneur committed to seeking truth, love and justice,” said while he applauds Obama’s candor and courage for speaking out on gay marriage, he remains disappointed that Obama has yet to assemble a national commission on race relations, has had little to say about the “Prison Industrial Complex,” which disenfranchises thousands of black men and has not provided a platform for the poor and vulnerable who lack lobbyists who can influence policy on their behalf.
“So I thank Mr. Obama for breaking the ice for a national dialogue to take place within the black community. However, as a preacher and budding theologian, I cannot help but to speak out for those who live among us who are the most vulnerable and who do not have the financial wherewithal to lobby and petition the president,” Gilmer said.
Myles, a middle-school student in Prince George’s County, Md., who is openly gay and has been bullied by classmates said he drew comfort from the president’s remarks.
“I like the fact that President Obama supports gay marriage because it shows that he wants us all to be equal,” Myles said, who asked that his full name not be revealed for security purposes. “I think it takes a lot of courage to take a stand. I hope it will give the bullies a reality check and let them know that we are all equal. We all have similar qualities and different qualities. No human should be treated differently because of their sexuality.”
Critics of the president dismissed the president’s interview with Roberts as nothing more than patently obvious pandering to the gay community and to score points with his liberal base.
The Obama campaign certainly wasted no time in turning the president’s remarks into a fundraising email with a link for readers who wanted to donate to the reelection effort.
In the email statement from Obama, he referred to the conversation with Roberts, explained how he came to his position on same-sex marriage, and added, “I hope you'll take a moment to watch the conversation, consider it, and weigh in yourself on behalf of marriage equality: my.barackobama.com/Marriage.”
“I surely support President Obama's position on gay marriage. I am standing on my belief that the time is now for the political arena to start consciously dealing with addressing a segment of our United States citizens who are law abiding and giving within the system of our government,” said Lydia Perry, a teacher in Dallas, who has been with her same-sex partner for more than 20 years.
“I believe it can bring more strength to him for coming forth,” Perry said. “Whether he is sincere or not, he brings forth a conversation many before him were too caught up in their own concerns to even begin to offer an open dialogue. I am trusting in his attempt to be open for the good of all of us involved.”