Monday, 21 May 2012

Obama's Support For Gay Marriage: Politics or Principle?

by Stephen Dunne

Controversial Newsweek cover
Image source: Chicago Tribune
When Obama announced, during an ABC interview earlier this month, that he supported gay marriage and would attempt to see legislation passed allowing this should he win re-election later this year, political analysts rushed to examine the politics behind the policy. Although Obama had indicated since 2010 that he was in favour of such a policy, the timing for such an announcement must be considered crucial, and more than just an ideological stance taken by the Democrat President. Instead, one might be cynical enough to suggest that Obama’s revelation was nothing more than an attempt to grab the attention of the voters and gain cheap popular support as opposed to a moral and ethical judgement on his part.
Cynical it might be, but it is a view held by the American voters. 67% of voters polled by CBS and The New York Times believe the move to be political, with less than 25% believing that Obama acted primarily because he thought gay marriage was right. However, the gamble does appear to be paying off for the 44th President as recent figures do suggest that America has finally started to accept gay marriage as not only morally justifiable but a right.This is especially true among Democratic Party supporters – this I will come back to later as it is most important - but also among Republican voters. The perhaps outdated views of some conservatives regarding homosexuality (for example, Senator Jim DeMint still regards such acts as pure sodomy which will cause hellfire to rain down upon humanity) are beginning to liberalise.
In a recent memo circulated by Jan van Lohuizen, a prominent Republican pollster and adviser to the Bush re-election campaign in 2004, Lohuizen states that, among the public as a whole, 49% support same-sex marriage, with only 40% opposed; furthermore, the divide is growing at a couple of percentage points per annum. Furthermore, only 29% of Republicans oppose all legal recognition of gay couples. This certainly explains why Republican presidential nominee-to-be, Mitt Romney, recently came out as opposed to gay marriage as a whole, but states he is open to the right to adopt children for same-sex couples and other expansions of rights. Clearly Mr Romney is attempting to appease both his liberal supporters and demonstrate more conservative credentials at the same time, and if the Republican primaries have shown us anything it is that one cannot flaunt both at the same time without losing significant credibility among the American voters.
Nonetheless, Obama should be praised for taking such a courageous stand so close to an election…or is it a courageous stand at all?  
If half the total population support gay marriage, then a clear majority of Democratic supporters approve of gay marriage, and the vast majority (if not all) would support further rights for same-sex couples. One must consider the current situation for the Obama campaign team: he has already won the first election and incumbents often secure re-election; all he needs to do is to hold onto his majority against an unlikely and less popular opponent. In order to achieve this he needs to appeal to the traditional Democratic voters and convince them that he is different and better than Romney – gay marriage is one of the defining issues around which liberals often rally. Just as Rick Santorum attempted to pander to the traditional Republicans, Obama’s actions might well be interpreted as a move to boost support within the ranks of supporters beginning to doubt his economic strategy as unemployment remains high (and is dropping more slowly than predicted) and the economy shows little hope of recovery soon.
So has Obama really taken a brave stance against a traditional American hostility towards homosexuality or has he simply done what he did back in 2008, and said exactly what the American public wants to hear? And, more importantly, should he get elected again, will he keep his promises this time or, as with  his promise to close Guantanamo Bay, decide that some things require a little too much effort to bother accomplishing?

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