March 9, 2012
By Jacob Combs
LGBT media outlets were abuzz yesterday about a questionnaire from the Washington Blade sent to the various presidential candidates regarding their views on LGBT issues. Not surprisingly, none of the Republican candidates responded to the Blade inquiry, but the Obama campaign’s long response (which can be read in full here) listed the administration’s many accomplishments in advancing legal protections for LGBT Americans. Once again, though, what was perhaps most notable about the response was that it contained absolutely no mention of marriage equality. And with that omission, many voices in the LGBT community found themselves asking, once again, does Obama deserve our support?
I’ll go on the record right now to say that my answer is a firm yes, and that I also understand and share the frustration of LGBT advocates who find the president’s glacial ‘evolution’ on marriage equality painful and transparently political. In making the argument for why LGBTs should support Obama in the coming election, though, I see three main points for why he is absolutely the best choice: his past record, his opponents’ positions, and the timeline of when his views might change.
The statement which the Obama administration provided to the Blade is a powerful document, and a concise but pointed reminder of how much the president has accomplished on LGBT rights since he took office. The repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell put an end to a 17-year old law that unfairly discriminated against gay and lesbian servicemembers and forced them to lie on the job about their personal identity. Obama’s directive to the Justice Department to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act has already resulted in two district court decisions striking down the law, and will no doubt continue to have an impact in the years to come until that odious provision is finally repealed or ruled unconstitutional for good. These are just the banner accomplishments: we have had smaller but no less important victories as well, including a national HIV/AIDS strategy, expanded hospital visitation rights, and the most LGBT appointments to both the executive and judicial branches in our nation’s history.
On the Republican side, the candidates’ positions on LGBT rights range from bad to terrible. Gingrich, Romney and Santorum all favor a federal constitutional amendment that would ban marriage equality, taking away legal marriages from couples that already have these rights. They support defending DOMA in court and oppose the repeal of DADT. In essence, all three candidates have promised that if they were elected president, they would work to erase the many victories that our community has seen in the last few years and cement second-class citizenship for LGBTs across the country. For LGBT voters looking for a better option than Obama this November, there simply isn’t one.
And finally, the timeline for Obama to finish his evolution. Many in the community believe that Obama has tacitly acknowledged that he will come out in full support of marriage equality should he win a second term. Certainly, his past actions and rhetoric show that the end result of his ‘evolution’ must be full support for marriage equality, and these advocates acknowledge that support for marriage could hinder Obama electorally in what will probably be a tough contest this November.
But Obama may not even get the opportunity to wait until 2013 to finish evolving. Just this week, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the chair of this fall’s Democratic National Convention, announced his support for a proposal (initiated by Freedom to Marry) to add marriage equality to the Democratic party platform before the nominating convention in September. Last week, 22 Senators said that they supported changing the platform language as well. President Obama is, of course, the head of the Democratic party, and the momentum in his party’s ranks (both among politicians and voters) is building mightily towards supporting marriage. If support builds for the new platform language before the convention, Obama might not have any choice but to throw in his support as well–it would be remarkable and uncomfortable for a party’s leader to accept its nomination but oppose a new platform with widespread support.
None of this is intended in any way to be an argument for letting Obama and his administration off the hook. Like everyone here at P8TT, I feel strongly about marriage equality as one of the defining LGBT issues of our generation. It is high time for Obama to finish his evolution, and to lead his party and our nation to full marriage equality. Marriage advocates will be continue to be disappointed in the president until he announces his support for the issue, and we should be. But I reject the notion that LGBTs should sit out this election because Obama hasn’t done enough for us, and the idea that we have to vote for Obama because we have no other choice. Supporting President Obama in November is not a choice borne out of necessity or desperation. It is a conscious decision to support a candidate who has stood up for our community in so many ways, and who can continue to do great good for it. Politicians are politicians, and they need us to push them to be better than they are. Obama may not have been perfect on LGBT rights in his first term, but, to borrow a phrase from his predecessor, he’s done one heckuva job.