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Obama administration considering a marriage equality endorsement before November’s election

Marriage equality

By Jacob Combs

It looks as if President Obama’s storied “evolution” on marriage equality may finally be entering an end stage, reports Chris Johnson of the Washington Blade, citing an inside source in a piece published today about the administration’s movement towards a full endorsement of equality.  From the Blade:

The chances that Obama will make such an announcement before the election are looking better than in previous months as the issue receives growing media attention and voters in a handful of states face ballot initiatives this year.

An informed source, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, said “active conversations” are taking place between the White House and the campaign about whether Obama should complete his evolution on marriage and that the chances of him making an announcement are about 50-50.

According to the source, the administration would like to unveil another major pro-LGBT initiative before the November election, and an endorsement of marriage equality could fit the bill. But concerns persist on how an endorsement of same-sex marriage would play in four or five battleground states.

As always, this battleground state/swing voter argument is what marriage advocates run up against when it comes to the President’s evolution.  The Obama campaign worries that a marriage announcement could alienate socially conservative Democrats as well as the independents who will no doubt be so important to his reelection.  These are valid concerns in the abstract, but the real question is: do they really line up with reality?

Elections are fuzzy creatures at best, so guessing how different factors would affect them is an inexact science.  Still, I think a persuasive argument can be made that an endorsement of marriage equality would likely have little negative effect on Obama’s reelection, and would in fact have a significant positive effect.

First, as polling continues to demonstrate that support for marriage equality is strong and growing, some of the most significant gains on the issue have been among independents.  A PPP poll from earlier this month showed that independent voters had shifted in just two years since 2009 from opposing marriage equality by a 52/46 margin to supporting it by a 57/36 margin.  A Field poll in California in early March also showed inroads amongst indepdents, with a full 56 percent supporting the freedom to marry.  Even more significantly, a recent Wall Street Journal poll conducted nationally showed that support for marriage had increased dramatically in several unexpected demographic groups, most significantly blue-collar voters, which experienced a 20 percent jump in the last two years, and African-Americans, which experienced an 18 percent increase.  A majority of Hispanics aged 18 to 34 also voiced support.

These opinion shifts show that marriage equality is quickly becoming a winning issue for pro-equality candidates even among constituencies that have been historically hesitant about the issue.  Most of the voters who would oppose Obama for a pro-marriage position would oppose him anyways on other issues.  As these various polls demonstrate, a marriage announcement would likely do little harm to the President’s standing amongst independents and important Democratic voters.

In truth, though, what the Blade article truly demonstrates is the fact that many of us in the marriage equality community have known and been frustrated by for years.  That the administration is considering when and how a marriage announcement should be made shows that Obama already supports marriage equality, at least privately.  What this means is that LGBT advocates end up frustrated with him for his glacial pace at adopting a position that they know will come eventually, and anti-marriage forces no doubt acknowledge the same facts and oppose Obama for what they know will be his future position.  In that way, the evolution stance is a lose-lose situation, and it has the added damage of allowing GOP candidates and pundits to make the specious claim that they share the same views as the President when it comes to marriage equality.

If Obama were to make his marriage announcement before the election, it would no doubt give him a big boost of support going into the fall.  It would energize the young Democratic base, who look at this issue as a fundamental rights question of paramount importance.  It would excite and motivate LGBT voters (and, even more importantly, donors), who have been frustrated with the President but would no doubt respond to a huge position shift on one of their central issues.  And it would draw a better distinction with the eventual GOP nominee, who will be one of several men who have espoused far-right anti-LGBT views throughout the primary campaign that are out of touch with the majority of Americans.

The one hitch: an ENDA executive order.  On Tuesday, the Labor and Justice departments cleared an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  The order is named after the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill that would prohibit such discrimination amongst private employers but which failed to pass Congress.   With this ENDA order close to being ready for signature, the Obama administration could make ENDA its pre-November LGBT action as opposed to marriage equality.  “My feeling is you’ll get one, you won’t get both before Election Day,” said the source quoted by the Washington Blade.

An ENDA victory would have a big impact, and would provide long-overdue rights to LGBT individuals who work for the government and for federal contractors.  It would not, however, have the same electoral value as a marriage announcement.  Supporting marriage equality before the election would put Obama in a much stronger position to make it a reality in his second term as president.


  • 1. Scottie Thomaston  |  March 22, 2012 at 8:37 am

    I was less conflicted before, honestly. If they really will have to choose between a marriage announcement and the EO I'd rather have substantive benefits. But I'm torn. Someone has to be the first president elected after endorsing marriage equality. And really there isn't a better time to do it than now.

    But on the other hand, I think it's silly that it's even being considered a one-or-the-other thing. There is no reason the president can't sign an EO that polls extremely well and also say that he thinks government should stop banning loving couples from committing their lives to each other.

  • 2. Jamie  |  March 22, 2012 at 9:22 am

    The EO would affect very few companies, most of whom already have non-discrimination requirements as it only applies to companies that have direct contracts with the federal government. The real need is an actual ENDA law that prevents all companies from discriminating.

  • 3. Sagesse  |  March 22, 2012 at 8:51 am


  • 4. Eric  |  March 22, 2012 at 9:07 am

    We don't donate to candidates that don't support marriage equality.

    Will an ENDA executive order get the LGBT community equal benefits for equal work? No.

  • 5. Marta  |  March 22, 2012 at 9:10 am

    I agree – give the choice between a federal contractor ENDA and a pro-marriage equality stance, I'd pick the former.

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but the president can't actually _do_ anything to directly achieve marriage equality in states that don't have it. That would have to come from Congress or the judiciary. All he can do is be a cheerleader/organizer (which was very helpful for DADT, but that had way more bipartisan support than marriage equality does).

    The only thing the president can actually achieve on marriage equality is work to get federal recognition of SSM for those in states that already have it, which he's already doing.

    I never really saw the point of pressuring Obama on SSM at this point in the game. We should focus on pressure for the ENDA instead, and keep working on the state-by-state strategy for marriage.

  • 6. Jamie  |  March 22, 2012 at 9:26 am

    If the federal government recognizes marriages, that will be a huge turning point. If gay couples in civil unions were denied federal benefits while gay couples in marriages were allowed them, then more State Courts would begin striking their marriage bans. The California Supreme Court specifically noted that they were likely to strike Proposition 8 if it ever prevented rights or benefits in the future.

  • 7. Marta  |  March 22, 2012 at 9:39 am

    I agree with everything you said – very good points.

    But Obama coming out in favor of gay marriage will not result in the federal government recognizing gay marriages, right? That would require either 1) DOMA being repealed through the legislature (which Obama already supports) or 2) SCOTUS declaring DOMA unconstitutional.

    So, the best way to get federal recognition of gay marriage is to election pro-equality people to Congress, right? Because we don't have much control over SCOTUS.

  • 8. Adam Bink  |  March 22, 2012 at 9:38 am

    Top people in North Carolina tell me the President's outspokenness on marriage equality is one of the best messengers the campaign could ask for. It is very important that Michelle did so.

  • 9. Brian  |  March 22, 2012 at 10:00 am

    I've long said that one issue on which the left and right agree is that President Obama supports marriage equality, regardless of his refusal to publicy do so. The right wing won't vote for him regardless, so he won't lose any votes if he announces his support. The left will be motivated and energized, with the "GayTM" likely to spit out generous campaign donations. Independents strongly support marriage equality, while also recognizing that at the Presidential level this is really just a "bully pulpit" issue until DOMA is repealed or stricken down by the courts. It's hard to imagine the President losing more votes among independents, in swing states or elswhere, than he would gain. So I am hopeful that the political calculation will tip in favor of a public statement supporting marriage equality. I've been expecting he would do so in next year's state of the union if he's reelected, but an announcement before the election would be fantastic, and, I believe, politically smart.

  • 10. Bill S.  |  March 22, 2012 at 10:25 am

    I disagree. I do not think anybody who is FOR gay marriage will change their mind and vote for the Republican candidate. However, there may be a good number of people who are against gay marriage who may seriously consider switching their vote, particularly evangelical black voters.

    This could make a difference in swing states like North Carolina and Virginia where support for gay marriage is not yet past the 50% mark like it is nationally.

    It's really just best for him to keep mum until after the elections.

  • 11. Richard Lyon  |  March 22, 2012 at 10:40 am

    Do you honestly think that black voters are going to vote against a black president because of this issue? That seems to me to be a highly unlikely thing to happen.

  • 12. Bill S.  |  March 22, 2012 at 11:16 am

    Yes. Black evangelicals will. Obama making a public statement in support of equal marriage will make this issue a focal point in this election.

    We don't stand to gain anything by him coming out in favor now versus waiting another 9 months to come out of the closet.

  • 13. Richard Lyon  |  March 22, 2012 at 11:20 am

    I don't believe that they will. African Americans have remained unwavering in their support of Obama across the board.

  • 14. cr8nguy  |  March 22, 2012 at 5:32 pm

    sorry,i have to agree with Bill. we have no idea if that support will hold if/when Obama announces support for marraige equality. there are alot of very vocal AA pastors who are already working against us in Maryland and elsewhere. I would not bet money that AAs will stay with Obama in the same numbers just because he is AA. maybe, but once that door is open, you can't close it.

    i'd wait if i were the president.

  • 15. jay P  |  March 22, 2012 at 10:38 am

    <img src=>Obama benefit for gay people, just on the one hand, he did a good job<img src=>

  • 16. Jim  |  March 22, 2012 at 10:53 am

    If Pres. Obama came out supporting same sex marriage, it would probably not get him any more votes than he already will, but what it will do, is give the extreme right wing another reason to come out strongly against Obama, and it will also give them a reason to come out and vote when many of them would have stayed at home because of their nominee. While support for their potential nominee is low, having the Pres. come out supporting same sex marriage would definitely drive up their voting numbers

  • 17. Dave in Northridge  |  March 22, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    I'd rather have the ENDA executive order before the election. I think we know that the administration will come out for marriage equality the minute the electoral votes are counted to show it has been reelected, and anything that gets us closer to ENDA is a good thing. This isn't an either-or for me, it's a promise of both.

  • 18. Eric  |  March 22, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    What makes you think it's a promise of both? Last time Obama got elected, he had the largest Democratic majorities in Congress in a generation and he didn't advance ENDA. If he had wanted, it could have been a priority and passed within the first 100-days of his administration.

  • 19. cr8nguy  |  March 22, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    this assumes he could force congress to do it. he can't. look at how the stimulus, PPACA, etc all ended up. how long it took to get DADT done. majorities are not helpful if people within them won't vote your way.

  • 20. Larry  |  March 22, 2012 at 8:05 pm

    Yes, but in the Senate there needed to be 60 votes, and there are more socially conservative Democrats than socially liberal Republicans.

    This might be an unpopular opinion here, but why couldn't Obama endorse national civil unions (like Britain has). That would seem to be more consistent with the views he's given publicly, civil unions have a lot more support nationwide than full marriage equality, and he'd probably be able to convince some Republican legislators to come on board. And it wouldn't be everything, but at least it'd get immigration/financial/health insurance benefits to a lot of couples around the country.

  • 21. Straight Dave  |  March 22, 2012 at 9:19 pm

    It just doesn't work that way in the US. The federal gov't has no role in marriages (or CU's). They are controlled by the states. There is nothing Obama can do legislatively about it, even if he had 100 Dem senators. He can publicly advocate for something, but that's about it. The states and/or US Supreme Court will make the decisions.

  • 22. bythesea  |  March 22, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    Hmm, I would bet we'll get the EO as the politically safer option that would motivate the antigay base of the GOP less than "evolving" fully on ME before the election. If that is what happens I can deal with that as long as the evolution happens in the fairly neat post-election future (though I am certainly not going to be disappointed if he does some out for ME).

  • 23. Bob  |  March 22, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    here's another perspective,,, the grassroots, boots on the ground, get them out to vote election machine, to re-elect Obama,,, must work just as hard,,, and will,,,, (the marriage issue aside),,,, is that not true,,,

    I mean really,,,,no matter if he makes it an election issue or not,,, there's still a lot of work to do to get him re-elected,,,, and you all will be doing that no matter what,,,,, am I right????

  • 24. Eric  |  March 22, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    I won't. I helped out last time, and for my trouble, I got compared to a pedophile in court by the DOJ, didn't get DOMA repealed, nor ENDA passed and DOMA didn't happen until after Obama fired 435 gays and lesbians. If Obama stops his de-evolving and supports marriage equality, like he did in '96, then I'll support him again.

  • 25. David X  |  March 22, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    You do realize who the option is if Obama is not re-elected. What gains do you believe Romney will offer the LGBT community for helping him defeat Obama with your lack of support. It's cutting off your nose to spite your face.

  • 26. Eric  |  March 22, 2012 at 7:44 pm

    Based on past history, Clinton got us DADT and DOMA. Lawrence happened during the Bush Administration. Bush's appointees have ruled against DOMA too. Obama's fired more gays and lesbians than any boss in recent history. And de-evolved on marriage equality, putting his personal religious beliefs before the constitution.. At least Romney has signed a marriage equality bill.

    I'm just not seeing a need to be blindly support a party that had the largest majorities in a generation and did little to support equality until a lame duck session.

  • 27. John  |  March 23, 2012 at 7:35 am

    Great now go vote for a Republican candidate that hates you.

  • 28. John  |  March 23, 2012 at 7:36 am

    Obama has done SO much more by far than ANY Republican President.

  • 29. Phillip K  |  March 23, 2012 at 8:20 am

    I can see your point and understand where you're coming from.

    That being said, I kind of view it as a lesser of 2 evils vote. The GOP candidates have been rather candid about their opposition to marriage equality (including Romney). While I wonder whether Obama could have possibly done more, I also realize it can be a bit of a hot button issue. When it comes down to it though, I find it difficult to vote for someone who openly has admitted that they would not support marriage equality. I'd rather take the chance with Obama. At least with that vote, there is some sort of hope of progress in the next 4 years on that front instead of the possibility of regression over the next 8 years.

  • 30. James Sweet  |  March 23, 2012 at 10:40 am

    You're going to vote for Romney on the basis that he's more pro-LGBT?!? You're insane, dude. Sorry.

    The Democratic Party has been only okay on gay rights, and the Obama administration has been awful on civil liberties. But the Republicans are way worse on both counts. So what to do? This:

    Continue to speak out about what is wrong with the Democratic Party and how you would like it to change.

    If you don't live in a swing state, consider voting for a 3rd party candidate.

    If you do live in a swing state, for god's sake, VOTE FOR OBAMA! Yeah, I'm pretty pissed off at Obama, particularly on the civil liberties front. (For a recent example, his AG announced last week that it was okay for the US to assassinate Americans living abroad with no judicial process whatsoever, as long as the president pinky-swears that guy was totally a terrorist — not cool!) But dear god, all the Republican candidates are far worse!

  • 31. John  |  March 24, 2012 at 8:04 am

    To all of you undecided gays what has the Republican party done for us?????!!!

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