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Obama comes out for gay marriage

10 May 2012

1:48 PM

10 May 2012

1:48 PM

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It isn’t just this side of the Atlantic where same-sex marriage is very much on the political agenda. Here, the Prime Minister gave it his support in his October conference speech, and the government is pressing ahead with plans to legislate for it before the next election, under the leadership of Lib Dem equalities minister
Lynne Featherstone. Meanwhile, across the pond, Barack Obama gave his support for equal marriage last night. In an interview with ABC News (above), he said:

‘At a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get

It may come as a surprise that Obama hadn’t already backed gay marriage, particularly given the strong stand he took on ending ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’, which prevented homosexuals from serving openly in the US armed forces. But up
‘til now he’s been walking something of a tightrope on the issue, focusing on legal equality for same-sex couples rather than ‘marriage’ itself. During the Democrats’
presidential primary campaign in 2007, he told an LGBT forum:

‘My view is that we should try to disentangle what has historically been the issue of the word “marriage”, which has religious connotations to some people, from the civil
rights that are given to couples, in terms of hospital visitation, in terms of whether or not they can transfer property or Social Security benefits and so forth… I would’ve
supported and would continue to support a civil union that provides all the benefits that are available for a legally sanctioned marriage. And it is then, as I said, up to religious denominations
to make a determination as to whether they want to recognise that as marriage or not.’

But that balancing act has been hard to sustain, with supporters of same-sex marriage pushing the President to join them. And recent events have convinced him to do just that. At the
weekend, Obama’s Vice President Joe Biden told NBC:

‘I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the
civil rights, all the civil liberties.’

This lead to renewed questions about the President’s own position, with White House press secretary Jay Carney being asked about it more than 50 times in one briefing session on Monday. According to Politico, administration officials claims that Biden’s comment forced Obama to endorse same-sex marriage earlier than
planned, but he was going to do so before the election anyway. But the article reports that others close to the President ‘have said that Obama was undecided about making an announcement before
the election to avoid losing religiously conservative swing voters in states like North Carolina, Ohio and Colorado’.

So how will this move affect Obama’s re-election hopes? As Nate Silver points out, polls have shown public opinion moving towards same-sex marriage over
the past eight years, to the point that supporters now outnumber opponents. Silver also makes the important point that

‘Social issues often do more to reinforce the loyalties of each party’s core voting groups than to sway the opinions of swing voters, especially in middling economic

A lot depends on how Mitt Romney chooses to respond. With the majority of independents supporting same-sex marriage, he’ll be
wary of alienating them further. But this does present Mitt Romney with an opportunity to make a big deal out of his opposition to same-sex marriage and give the socially conservative base of the
Republican Party a reason to get excited about him — something which he’s failed to do so far.

In the past, Romney’s joked that, as a Mormon, he believes that ‘Marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman, and a
woman, and a woman…’ One thing’s for sure: he won’t be repeating that line as he tries to turn news this to his advantage.

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