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May 10, 2012

Having Done it to Do it: Obama’s Gay Marriage Endorsement

I really appreciate Digby’s post on what could have been a historic day yesterday. Her point-of-focus was Lyndon Johnson and how he threw himself, body and soul, not just behind civil rights but behind the Civil Rights Act.

If there is anything we know about Obama from the past four years, it’s that he’s an incrementalist. If he believes in going forward, it’s not as if he’s the first man through the door. It’s not that he hasn’t been bold at times, but you could say he’s “cautiously bold,” meaning that any risk has been so calculated there’s really not that much risk left or that far to fall.

So, is it a significant development that the President of the United States has professed his support for gay marriage? Of course it is. Is it also a narrow development, however, and a frustrating one to many that the decision was a personal (and surely, a strategic) one that pretty much leaves intact the status quo? Yes, that too.

Because words also form pictures, let’s take a second to consider Obama’s exact words on the matter:

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.”

That’s two “I’s,” two “me’s” and a “personally” (with the word “just” meaning anything but). Amidst the self-consciousness, it’s not like Obama is flatly stating his support for gay marriage so much as he’s sharing how he’s chosen to decide to go ahead and think that way. Because it was that important.

Closing my eyes, I could imagine yesterday’s White House photo-of-the-day capturing words and a scene as deeply touching as Obama’s speech in Tucson to an arena full of people after Gabrielle Giffords was shot. I could imagine words and a scene as stirring, and as informed by history and justice and misunderstand, and as electrifying and instructive as Obama’s address on race back in March ‘08. Instead, however, in posting a photo taken by ace WH photographer Pete Souza of Obama sharing his gay marriage sentiments with ABC host Robin Roberts, the emphasis and the focus here is not on legislation or appealing to our better selves or rallying around civil rights as much as it’s about having been on camera having shared his mind.

(photo: Pete Souza caption: President Barack Obama participates in an interview with Robin Roberts of ABC’s Good Morning America, in the Cabinet Room of the White House, May 9, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.)

  • BamaGuy1024

    I agree with all you have said, however as a gay man in a committed relationship since the 1970s all criticisms of Obama are completely overshadowed by the outright joy I felt at hearing the breaking news yesterday. It restored my confidence in Obama, made me feel about him like I did four years ago. And it gave me hope once again that homophobia and fear and stupid laws like North Carolina passed earlier this week will someday be relics of the past. And yes I did immediately donate to the campaign to show my pride in what the President said.

  • Stella

    Excellent commentary.  This whole event felt like Obama just shrugged and said “oh, alright.”  after a lot of childish pleas.  His response was to say that it’s okay with him if the individual states want to enshrine bigotry in their Constitutions.  Nothing about the United States.

    This mirror-image photo of one man and one woman really captures the enthusiasm of the moment.

    • Michael Shaw

      I especially appreciate your observation of the mirror image.

  • bks

    It’s a golden age.  The top issues are Zimmerman/Martin and gay marriage.   What a welcome relief from the phony Global War On Terror!   I am reminded of the summer of 2001 when the biggest story was Gary Condit/Chandra Levy.   Maybe we can focus on real issues now, like global warming and preventive medicine.


  • Megan

    The stars, pushing from different directions (personal beliefs, gay donors withholding funding), finally brought him to this moment.

  • Thomas

    In Obama’s Giffords and race speeches he was reinforcing pre-existing establishment positions: Violence is wrong. Racism is wrong. The official consensus at the heart of those speeches is already on the books and in the culture. The gay marriage position is completely different because it is authorizing a new direction for what the establishment position ought to be. It signals a huge course correction for huge institutions. There has been an awful lot of bickering, theatrics, and overheated rhetoric on the issue and I’m guessing the understated, sober, intimate framing of the announcement is aimed primarily at those institutional elites whose compliance is going to be crucial in setting and enforcing the new standards.

  • Stella

    No need to mention the pressure of George Clooney’s party this evening.  Of course I entered the lottery for an invitation, but no $40,000 ticket for me.  How would the president have explained himself to the big donors tonight?

  • Bugboy

    This could not be a better bookend to the Romney revelation that he is indeed a bully as we suspected all along.  

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