Obama and Romney Can’t Fence-Sit on Marriage Equality

While President Obama’s attitude concerning same-sex marriage is “evolving,” and presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s attitude is an unequivocal denouncement, the American people seem to be moving solidly toward an acceptance of marriage equality. Both Obama and Romney need to get with the program.

Simply put: in the last presidential election it would have been political suicide to support marriage equality. This November it may be a risk not to.

If Romney too vociferously denounces same-sex marriage or attempts to employ it as a wedge issue (as candidate George W. Bush successfully did in 2004), he’ll risk not only Republican donations but Republican voters — and not just moderate ones.

“As they look past a dwindling anti-gay slice of their base, smart Republicans know they need to get in step with their own professed values — freedom, responsibility, small government — not to mention America’s majority for marriage,” Evan Wolfson wrote in a recent “New York Times” op-ed, “The Anti-Gay Base Is Shrinking.” Wolfson is the founder and president of Freedom to Marry and the author of “Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality, and Gay People’s Right to Marry.”

Obama may attempt to shrewdly fence-sit on the issue while winking a stealth nod our way, or he may play a game of “go away closer” and hold support until after his reelection. Either option is a game of Russian roulette, and some LGBTQ Americans may hold on to their pink dollars this time around.

“Meanwhile, Freedom to Marry’s call on the president and the Democratic Party to embrace a ‘freedom to marry’ platform plank has won support from numerous party leaders, elected officials and tens of thousands of Democrats online,” Wolfson writes.

For both of these politicians, Obama and Romney, whose words are always measured and whose political game strategy is always cautiously safe, a full support of same-sex marriage not only would help their political aspirations to the 2012 White House but would help in positively supporting the millions of children in same-sex families to know that they, too, are part of the American dream.

With exposure to LGBTQ people, and with more and more Americans wanting LGBTQ members in their families to receive the same state and federal protections as every heterosexual American, a seismic shift has occurred. The increasing acceptance of gay marriage has a lot to do with public acceptance of LGBTQ people. A 2011 survey by the Pew Research Center reveals that 58 percent of the American populace accepts LGBTQ people. And the latest Pew survey found a “47 to 43 percent plurality favoring gay marriage, with as many Americans saying they strongly favor (22 percent) as saying they strongly oppose (22 percent),” according to Pew Research Center president Andrew Kohut. Much of this change in attitude toward LGBTQ Americans is both generational and cultural.

The culture of many faith communities and denominations that, once upon a time, were hopelessly homophobic has also changed. While many have changed their views on LGBTQ people based on both spiritual repentance and theological awakening, those who haven’t are at least not spewing religious vitriol from the pulpit.

But then, of course, there’s my faith tradition, the black church, a homophobic faith tradition that Obama, in his first presidential run to the White House, unabashedly wooed and won votes from. With right-wing organizations like the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) courting black churches for their strategic 2012 election game plan to drive a wedge between LGBTQ voters and African-American voters, Obama will need to stay clear of these churches and clerics.

And while a preponderance of these black churches have not changed (and, sad to say, they probably won’t in my lifetime), there is a growing number in this faith tradition who don’t want a constitutional amendment on gay marriage and want LGBTQ civil rights to be addressed as a theological issue.

Josef Sorett, who is an assistant professor of religion and African-American studies at Columbia University, wrote in his response to the recent “New York Times” question, “Is Support for Gay Rights Still Controversial?”:

“[M]any black Christians are now having more nuanced conversations about the significance of sexual identity and expression in determining the measure of full citizenship. Some black churches are seeing shared commitments with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists, even as these churches affirm that the African American struggles of the 1960s were unique.”
While the own-ness of homophobic clerics is skewed toward African-American ministers, let’s not forget the white homophobic evangelical clerics whom Obama also wooed and won over. On the day Obama was sworn in, Pastor Rick Warren, founder of the evangelical megachurch Saddleback Church, in Lake Forest, Calif., and a supporter of California’s Proposition 8, which rescinded the California Supreme Court’s ruling that gay marriage is constitutionally permissible, gave the invocation, with many LGBTQ Americans who voted for Obama feeling like we were thrown under the bus.

But this election year, the tables are turned. Both Obama and Romney have much to lose should they ignore the important civil rights topic of marriage equality on their run to the White House.

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