So President Obama last night put a halt to the “evolution” of his thoughts about same-sex marriage and finally came out in favor! Many Americans hailed his announcement as historic; many others, you can be sure (specifically, Christian evangelicals and African-Americans), were horrified.
In the Netherlands, on the other hand, we say “What took you so long?” This country was the first to recognize same-sex marriage, more than 10 years ago on 1 April 2001. So Obama’s move is not going to dazzle many observers over here. Rather, some cool-headed analysis of just exactly what he did, why, and why he did it now is in order.
As you can see if you want to click through to the Volkskrant article, journalist Pieter Sabel addresses three main considerations:
- Joe Biden: The Vice-President let the cat out of the bag by expressing his own support for same-sex marriage last Sunday on a TV talk-show. Attention then naturally shifted to the chief executive himself who, according to Sam Stein at the Huffington Post, had planned to announce his own support just before the Democratic National Convention in early September. But Biden forced him to accelerate that schedule.
- Voters: Here Sabel takes his eye off the ball somewhat. He cannot assert that US voters are by-and-large behind the President’s move, because that is not true. Rather, perhaps half are for, but then half are against, so that Obama could be taking a considerable political risk here to his re-election.
- Politics: How is this different from “Voters”? Beats me. But the point here is mainly about Romney who, predictably, has seized on the President’s new position to try to paint him as a “flip-flopper.” He needs to be careful, though; remember that he first made his name politically as governor of Massachusetts, as well as candidate for Senator from there (in 1994, against Ted Kennedy), so that it appears that there are materials from back in those times showing him much more supportive of “full equality for all homosexual Americans” than he claims to be today.
By the way, Sabel notes that Obama took care to say that this was his “personal” standpoint, which theoretically still leaves him with the rhetorical room to act against it in the future as “President Obama,” as opposed to “Barack.” More concretely, he also made clear that he views the issue as something for the individual states to decide.
In contrast, today’s NYT editorial, drawing the analogy with mixed-race marriage which was finally declared “one of the ‘basic civil rights of man'” by the Supreme Court in 1967, opines that same-sex marriage is something that should be instituted at the national level – probably by means of another Supreme Court decision, for which “President Obama” should instruct his Justice Department to argue in favor.