Kudos to President Obama for coming out last week in favor of same-sex marriage (pun intend..though I know it’s a bad one). Make no mistake about it – having a sitting president speak out in favor of these unions is a huge boon to same-sex couples and their allies across the nation pushing for equal rights. And for those of you that would claim this is a religious or moral debate, stop right there – it’s not. These are U.S. citizens who are asking for equal protection and rights under the law – the right to be united with whom they choose from a legal standpoint; to claim the same tax benefits (and pitfalls), health benefits and legal standing as other couples; and to be able to stand on the same ground as heterosexual couples in adoption, will/estate, immigration and other issues (including, oddly divorce, more on that later). They are not asking to get married in your church, make you watch them spend their lives together or trying to teach your children anything – except perhaps that ALL men and women should be treated equally. They are not asking for your blessing or to be invited into your home, they merely want the same rights as everyone else has and then to be able to enjoy them in peace. I think that’s not too much to ask.
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While President Obama’s statement was praiseworthy, it was hardly shocking for its face value. Obama, after all, ended “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and instructed the Attorney General to halt any further defense of the Defense of Marriage Act. Further, Michelle Obama is a proponent of gay rights and his daughters have several friends who are children of same-sex couples. Vice President Biden even made a similar statement recently. So no, the content of the statement itself isn’t shocking – Obama may have said to be “evolving” his position on same-sex marriage, but in reality it was always clear.
No, the shocking part of the comment was its timing – right before a hotly contested election. This is usually the time when candidates state only things are that broadly popular and have been vetted heavily with voters to ensure they will not lower their polling numbers. Or when they make broad statements that can be interpreted in any number of ways – all without pinning themselves to any real position. They rarely want to risk alienating any voters at all. Regardless of what you think of the position, or of Obama himself though, there’s no equivocation in “it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married[.]” In saying that, he took a position that only a slim majority of Americans hold – and one that has been soundly defeated in elections around the country. Of course, it should be mentioned that he also won himself a powerful lobby and quite a few wealthy donors, but at the risk of losing a number of southern states that he can ill-afford to give up in the election.
So kudos to you President Obama for speaking your mind in an election year, regardless of what the consequences might be.
Note on the divorce comment above – in an interesting turn of events, those advocating against gay marriage have actually made it more difficult for those in same-sex marriages to have them disolved via divorce. It goes a bit like this: you can go practically anywhere in the US to get married – you need not live in most states to be married there. So a same-sex couple living in a state where they cannot legally marry can travel to one where they can and have the ceremony. This is much the same as an opposite-sex couple eloping to Las Vegas. However, because of various property and jurisdiction issues, you may only file for divorce in the state where you reside. So when that now married opposite-sex couple returns from Vegas and the shine wears off their marriage, they can go to the nearest court to their home and file for divorce. However, when the same-sex couple returns and decides they want to get a divorce, they can’t – because their local court is prohibited by law from interpreting the word “married” or “marriage” in the divorce statute to apply to them. So they are stuck – one of them would have to literally pick up and move to a state that did allow same-sex marriage just to get the divorce.