Michelle Obama Speaks on Gay Issues

One frustration in politics is that often neither party gets it right and we are forced to go with the party which comes closer to our views. Political considerations prevent politicians from taking consistent principled stands, even when they probably agree with us on principle. The Democrats’ compromise on FISA provided one example this week. Same-sex marriage provides yet another example with two events this week showing the differences between the parties. Just as many Democrats are afraid of taking a principled stand on civil liberties which risks leaving them open to attacks of being soft on terrorism, they are afraid of the consequences of openly backing same-sex marriage. I cannot help but wonder if in the end they are primarily risking the loss of votes from people who would never vote for a Democrat. While the consistent liberal position on both FISA and same-sex marriage might be supported by less than 50% of the voters at present, I also cannot help but wonder if public support would be greater if Democrats spent more time defending civil liberties and marriage equality as opposed to hiding from Republican attacks. Obama has the ability to persuade voters on these issues if he were to choose to.

Barack Obama’s position on same-sex marriage seems to be crafted more as an attempt at political compromise than as a firm support of a principled position. He does have a strong record of support for equality up to the point of marriage, where his views become less clear. He is on record many times opposing gay marriage. Once it comes down to specifics, he both has been accepting of same-sex marriage while he has been opposed to laws hindering it. It seems to be a position which attempts to keep this under the radar for the majority who do not cast their vote based upon the issue but is also unsatisfactory to both sides which care about the issue The LGBT community understandably has been critical of Obama for not openly supporting full equality in marriage while conservatives realize that he is not standing with them in opposition.

From the right, Rich Lowry believes “Barack Obama might be the first major candidate for president to support same-sex marriage.”He notes that Obama “respects the decision of the California Supreme Court” which basically equivalent to approving of same sex marriage even if he will not openly support it. He goes further than the 2004 nominee, John Kerry, and his more socially conservative opponents in 2008, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, on this issue.

Michelle Obama spoke at a dinner meeting of the Gay & Lesbian Leadership Council of the Democratic National Committee promoting her husband’s record:

She said he supported a complete repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which only recognizes marriages between men and women and upholds states’ rights not to honor same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. He also opposes a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy toward gays in the U.S. military and was against a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, she added.

He supports full family and adoption rights for gay and lesbian couples and believes the federal government should not stand in the way of states that opt for domestic partnerships, civil unions or civil marriage, she said. The Illinois senator opposes same-sex marriage.

“Barack believes that we must fight for the world as it should be, a world where together we work to reverse discriminatory laws like DOMA and ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’” she said. “The world as it is should be one that rejects discrimination of all kinds.”

Her husband also has called for a renewed effort to fight HIV and AIDS and has said the African-American community should overcome homophobia, she said.

Steve Ralls also reported on her speech at The Huffington Post, differentiating Obama’s views from John McCain’s:

Within her remarks to the GLCC last night, Mrs. Obama shared an extraordinary insight into the Obama campaign’s respect for same-sex couples that set Senator Obama apart from almost any other Democratic lawmaker in the country . . . and certainly apart from any other nominee.

The Associated Press, using the creative and unfortunate powers of the editing pen, reported that Mrs. Obama told the crowd on Thursday evening that, “states should make their own decisions on the matter” of marriage and civil unions. But in fact, she went progressively further. What she actually said was that states should “decide for themselves how best to pursue equality for gay and lesbian couples — whether that means a domestic partnership, a civil union, or a civil marriage. ”

She did not endorse the option to simply push any form of recognition to the side.

Those remarks are a far cry — and light years ahead — of the characterization that AP used in its reporting. Indeed, it’s the (very significant) difference between hiding behind states rights and calling on states to do the right thing.

Michelle Obama’s words should also set the campaign apart from the GOP for gay voters who have openly raised concerns about Senator Obama’s lack of a track record on our issues. As Senator McCain endorses a divisive anti-marriage amendment in California, Senator Obama and his wife have taken the latest, meaningful in that march that began in Selma and Stonewall.

He concluded with a positive assessment:

Can the LGBT community take heart in the leadership Michelle brings, and in the words she says?

Yes, I think, we certainly can.

Pam Spalding notes that, “Some out there are pretty suspicious about Barack Obama on LGBT issues” due to his stated oppositon to same-sex marriage. She also considers his other positions on LGBT issues and points out that this is to the exclusion of all the rest of the policy positions that are in our favor. These are positions that the candidate has held from day one.”

The contrast between Obama, even if his position is imperfect, and many Republicans can also be seen with the return of the Federal Marriage Amendment which states that “Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman.” Steve Benen points out the irony of who is backing it:

But the funny part is looking over the list of the 10 original sponsors. Most of the names are predictable — Brownback and Inhofe, for example — but there are two others whose names stand out: Sens. David Vitter (R-La.) and Larry Craig (R-Idaho).

Yes, two of the principal sponsors of a constitutional amendment to “protect” marriage include one far-right Republican who hired prostitutes and another far-right Republican who was arrested for soliciting gay sex an airport men’s room.

As my friend Kyle put it, these two are “not exactly the poster boys of the family values crowd or particularly upstanding examples of the supposed sanctity of the ‘union of a man and a woman.”‘

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2 Comments

  1. 1
    Liz Weiss says:

    Michelle Obama Speaks on Gay Issues – http://liberalvaluesblog.com/?p=3467

  2. 2
    Liz Weiss says:

    Michelle Obama Speaks on Gay Issues – http://liberalvaluesblog.com/?p=3467

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