We Need Change

Obama’s Missed Iowa Moment

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It’s the state that vaulted Barack Obama, a relative newcomer, to the White House. And last week, Iowa may have launched a wave of change when it comes to gay marriage as well. Only time will tell if the Iowa Supreme Court’s unanimous decision to allow gays and lesbians to have the same marriage rights as their straight counterparts will be the tipping point for the gay equality debate in this country. But one thing is certain right here and now, our President’s tepid response to the historic decision is not change we can believe in.

Following the decision on Friday, the White House released a statement saying:

“The President respects the decision of the Iowa Supreme Court, and continues to believe that states should make their own decisions when it comes to the issue of marriage. Although President Obama supports civil unions rather than same-sex marriage, he believes that committed gay and lesbian couples should receive protection under the law.”

Which, minutes after Pam’s House Blend took the statement to task for not using the phrase “equal protection” was revised to this:

“The President respects the decision of the Iowa Supreme Court, and continues to believe that states should make their own decisions when it comes to the issue of marriage. Although President Obama supports civil unions rather than same-sex marriage, he believes that committed gay and lesbian couples should receive equal rights [emphasis added] under the law.”

As we all know, the President’s position is purely political. As an Illinois state senator, he had indicated on a questionnaire that he supported gay marriage and his backpedal to civil unions is based on strategy.

It’s hard to imagine our law-professor-in-chief did not look at Iowa’s ruling — and you can’t help wondering if, as he perused the Iowa justices’ carefully reasoned take-down of all the arguments against gay marriage, he didn’t question his own cynical position. Especially if his revised statement is to believed. If the president believes in equal rights for gays and lesbians under the law, then he’s for gay marriage. Civil unions are, by their very nature, a perverted contemporary version of “separate, but equal,” a fallacy that at one-time would have made it illegal for his own parents to marry.

There are times where “political strategy” is code for “cowardice” and this is one of those times. With George W. Bush, we knew that his anti-gay attitudes were based on conviction; Obama’s rhetoric is based on fears of being labeled a “liberal.”

There are moments of opportunity in every democracy and we’re living through one right now. The past six months have been the most momentous in the history of the gay and lesbian civil rights struggle. Put simply, we’re winning, not just in the courts, but in the court of public opinion. If we were to tell you a year ago that America would be engaged in a national debate about whether gays and lesbians should have civil unions or the right to marry, you’d have laughed at us, but that was before Prop. 8, the marches, and the collective semi-conscious decision by the LGBT movement to bring up the issue often and loudly.

Moments fade, though. The shifting ground beneath us has a way of solidifying and many of the marriage battles happening right now will be over in a few months and with it, it will be harder for hays and lesbians to keep the issue in the minds of a public accustomed to 24-hour-news cycles. The President has an opportunity to make a lasting impact on the gay rights movement today, not through Machiavellian negotiations, but by using his best weapon: His voice.

It’s easy to speak up for “all Americans.” It takes a lot more courage to speak up for the ones on the outside, looking in. Our president wants to go down in history as the fulfillment of the American Dream, but so long as he remains mute on the deferred dreams of gays and lesbians, dreams he privately supports, greatness will continue to elude him. –Japhy Grant