Barack Obama, the lanky and charismatic U.S. senator from Illinois, is a national, if not global, phenomenon. He is being touted as the miracle elixir for a nation divided along the fault lines of race, religion, politics and class.
Obama’s visionary keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004 – when he stated, “There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America. There’s the United States of America. There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America. There’s the United States of America. … We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states. We coach Little League in the blue states and have gay friends in the red states” – made him America’s great hope for a better future.
As a supposedly bipartisan politician who understands and reconciles opposing views, and a non-doctrinal Christian whose personal identity and life journey shaped his lens to include those on the margins, why then is this presidential hopeful not united with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer voters on the issue of marriage equality?
“I was reminded that it is my obligation not only as an elected official in a pluralistic society, but also as a Christian, to remain open to the possibility that my unwillingness to support gay marriage is misguided,” Obama wrote in his recent memoir, “The Audacity of Hope.”
But Obama’s audacity is not only his unwillingness to support the issue, but also his misunderstanding and misuse of the term “gay marriage.” The terminology “gay marriage” not only stigmatizes and stymies our efforts for marriage equality, but it also suggests that LGBTQ people’s marriages are or would be wholly different from those of heterosexuals, thus altering its landscape, if not annihilating the institution of marriage entirely.
But Obama’s remarks in a recent interview with Tim Russert on NBC’s “Meet the Press” spoke somewhat encouragingly about granting LGBTQ couples not marriage, but certainly civil union rights.
However, having lived outside of America during its turbulent decades of the Jim Crow era and legal segregation, Obama does not know, on a visceral level, what it was like for African Americans.
But he ought to know, as a civil rights attorney, that granting LGBTQ Americans only the right to civil union violates our full constitutional rights as well as reinstitutionalizes the 1896 U.S. Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson. As a result of that case, the “separate but equal” doctrine became the rule of law until it was struck down in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision.
However, Obama doesn’t get that regardless of one’s gender expressions or sexual orientations, we want equal status to be institutionalized within our marriages as well.
Although not a cradle Christian, Christianity became Obama’s newfound religious identity late in his life. And his affinity to conservative Christian beliefs not only informs his decision on the issue of marriage equality, but it also solidifies his decision about us in a community of believers like himself.
“I must admit that I may have been inflected with society’s prejudices and predilections and attribute them to God, ” Barack writes in his book. “My work with pastors and lay people deepened my resolve to lead a public life. … I had no community or shared traditions in which to ground my most deeply held beliefs. The Christians with whom I worked recognized themselves in me; they saw that I knew their Book and shared their values and sang their songs.”
Religion has become a peculiar institution in the theater of American politics. Although its Latin root “religio” means to bind, it has served as a legitimate power in binding people’s shared hatred in both red states and blue states, both intentionally and unintentionally.
Obama’s “The Audacity of Hope” is not a must read for LGBTQ voters, because he fails to fully comprehend or sincerely commit to the issue of social justice for all Americans. He does not tackle head-on how the religious rhetoric of this political era has played an audacious role in discrimination against LGBTQ people, leaving us with little to no hope, his rhetoric included.
“In years hence, I may be seen as someone who was on the wrong side of history. I don’t believe such doubts make me a bad Christian, ” Obama writes.
As LGBTQ voters, our job is neither to judge nor vote for Obama on whether he is a good Christian. It is, however, for us to judge and vote on whether he is a good statesman.
Should he run for president, he won’t get my vote.
Published in In Newsweekly, October 25, 2006.