Discourse / Editorials / May 16, 2012

Thoughts from the Embers: Obama and gay marriage

Last week, President Barack Obama announced that his views on same-sex marriage had undergone an “evolution” and he now supported its legalization, becoming the first U.S. President to ever officially announce his support.

It is worth keeping in mind that this was not entirely a heroic moral stand on Obama’s part. After all, he has been looking to fire up his liberal base and get them out to vote in November and this is probably an issue that will do that quite well. Vice President Joseph Biden’s unplanned comments on the issue probably also forced a decision on Obama’s part.

But that does not lessen the value of the statement. Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation may have been largely a military measure that did not directly free a single slave, but that does not mean that its issuance was not one of the great moments in this nation’s moral history. President Obama has put himself on the right side of history with this embrace of justice and civil rights and he should be applauded for doing so, whatever his reasons.

Certainly not everybody would do so. Almost simultaneous with Obama’s announcement, the voters of North Carolina went to the polls and voted to define marriage in their state as only between a man and a woman. This vote should remind us that supporters of gay marriage still have a long fight ahead of them.

Obama’s announcement does not actually change anything for gay couples. Gays still cannot marry in most of this country and the federal Defense of Marriage Act still prohibits the government from recognizing valid marriages conducted in the few places where they can.

Just announcing his support is not enough. The 2008 election showed us that Obama will not deliver on all of his promises. Those who hoped for comprehensive immigration reform, for example, hoped in vain. Obama, along with Congress, will need to be continuously pushed so that tangible progress is made on this issue, such as a repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Certainly this will be a hard-fought battle. Many politicians on both sides of the aisle will not follow the President and announce their support until they sense that popular opinion is shifting in that direction. Right now views are still split in the U.S. and it will not be surprising to see more states follow North Carolina’s example and enact laws against it, but those states are only postponing the inevitable.

Gay couples will have the right to marry in our lifetimes in most, if not all, of this country. The tide is turning and it cannot be held back. This does not, however, mean we can rest confidently on our laurels. Justice delayed is justice denied.

Obama’s announcement should serve as a moral beacon and inspiration for young people like us to get involved or stay involved in the struggle, especially at the state level, where the real battles are likely to happen.

By all means, celebrate this historic announcement. But once you are done, remind yourself: there is still a lot of work to be done.

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