Is same-sex marriage the new black for Barack Obama? I think so. Since Barack Obama’s historic “support” of gay marriage, critics and defenders alike have kept a buzz alive about the issue, heaping both praise or blame on the president’s shoulders about his public statement, pondering whether or not his position makes him a good or bad president. Although Obama’s subject matter was groundbreaking, his actual words avoid the responsibility for taking any concrete action on gay marriage, and are therefore not very groundbreaking at all. In fact, Obama’s statements reflect his muted racial politics as much as, if not more than, they do his sexual politics. Same-sex marriage is in fashion with Barack Obama now, but it is only a passing fad, a by-product of political expediency.
The president is using gay marriage as a “hot button” issue to boost up his street credentials as a progressive, while at the same time down-playing his “otherness” as an African-American. Once we look at Obama’s same-sex marriage rhetoric as rhetoric, we see that his “courageous stance” is primarily political double talk aimed at re-branding an embattled POTUS, making him seem edgy, yet non-threatening. Obama’s exact position on gay marriage is as non-committed as his position on African-American rights. According to Obama, “I've just concluded that-- for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that…sex couples should be able to get married” because “in this country we've always been about-- fairness. And-- and treatin' everybody-- as equals. Or at least that's been our aspiration.” Essentially, Obama is saying he is not against gay marriage, but his administration isn’t going to push the issue “because historically, this [marriage] has not been a federal issue.”
I beg your pardon Mr. President, but marriage has been a federal issue since Loving v. Virginia (1967), which declared Virginia's anti-miscegenation statute unconstitutional, thereby ending all race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States. This decision had bearing on the current gay marriage debate because what was at stake was which American citizens had the right to claim their relationship a “marriage.” Apparently, brother Obama (a law professor, mind you) forgot this little hiccup in American history. If he hadn’t, he could have been honest with Robin Robinson and said that marriage has a long-standing tradition of being a federal matter, and also that it has been so because the United States has never been a country that didn’t have to force citizens into “fairness.” That would have been controversial and progressive. “Equality” is not the oil that makes this machine run. Barack knows this, but he can’t say anything about it because he is the first President of the United States with clear African ancestry. His mere presence is as progressive as American politics is going to become during his tenure.
Clearly, Obama’s rhetoric does not match up with the facts. Obama, considering the Loving case in his statement on gay marriage, would have reminded Americans of two things: 1) There is a precedent for federal intrusion into marriage laws. And, 2) Barack Obama is—in so many ways—a beneficiary of federal intrusion into state marriage laws. Unfortunately, this is an election year, and Obama is an unpopular president among progressive democrats and white independents. Although he is still wildly popular among African-Americans, his team has decided to boost his profile at the expense of a truth that would too closely associate him with his strongest base support. (This happens all too often in American politics.)
I refuse to deride Obama for his wishy-washy stance, or his crafty political maneuvering to try to stay relevant. But I have to ask a question that has burning in my mind since May 9th. Why is okay for Obama to be progressive on gay rights issues, but non-controversial when it comes to issues dealing with Blacks, and other minorities? It’s not a new question, or an unfair one. Despite his rhetoric claiming otherwise, I don’t think Barack’s championing of the gay rights cause was a decision he made with his heart-- it was made with his head. Public opinion and political expediency are the real culprits behind Barack Obama's public support of gay marriage.
Armondo R. Collins