Samuel Gompers, the cigar maker who became a labor leader and founder of the AFL, was once asked: “What does labor want?” His answer was simple and direct: “More!”
“We do want more,” he explained, “and when it becomes more, we shall still want more. And we shall never cease to demand more until we have received the results of our labor.”
Most recently, that same impatient demand was heard from America’s LGBT community. Yes, they acknowledged, it’s true. President Obama has done more than any other president to expand and protect the rights of gays and lesbians. Most strikingly, he ended, as promised, the discriminatory Pentagon policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and ordered his Justice Department to defend it no longer. He was the first to provide hospital visitation rights and medical decision-making rights to same-sex couples. He opposed ballot measures to ban gay marriage in North Carolina and Minnesota.
But LGBT leaders still demanded more – in the form of Obama’s open support for same-sex marriage. This week, he delivered. His position on the thorny issue was no longer “evolving,” Obama told ABC’s Robin Roberts. “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 married.”
Of course, Obama wasn’t the first administration official to support gay marriage. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan broke the ice last November. Vice President Joe Biden signed up on last Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” declaring himself “absolutely comfortable” with marriage equality. The next day, Education Secretary Arne Duncan climbed on board. But Obama had the toughest decision of all.
It took a lot of guts for President Obama to send in the Navy Seals after Osama bin Laden. It took even more guts for him to come out in support of same-sex marriage. Because there’s no way the first could hurt him politically. But the second could cost him badly. Same-sex marriage is still not well-received in most states, as we saw again Tuesday in North Carolina.
But, instead of playing it safe, like most politicians, Obama decided to defy the political odds and take a stand. How refreshing! Usually, presidents follow public opinion. For once, this president is leading public opinion – and doing the right thing, politically and morally.
Sure, there are political risks; but, also, political gains. The reality is that those religious conservatives who are so adamantly opposed to same-sex marriage would never vote for Obama, anyway. Some black pastors may not be happy, but they’re not going to abandon Barack Obama and flock to Mitt Romney on this issue alone. Meanwhile, the vast majority of voters under 35, Obama’s core constituency, either enthusiastically support same-sex marriage or doesn’t give a fig.
Obama’s public support of gay marriage – coupled with his bailout of the auto industry, push for health care and the bin Laden raid – also reinforces the image of Obama as a strong, effective leader – an image the Obama campaign is trying to project. At the same time, Romney’s opposition to both same-sex marriage and civil unions helps the Obama campaign paint him as a man who is out of touch and lacking any core convictions.
So, politically, Obama’s same-sex endorsement is probably, at worst, a wash. But, morally, it’s absolutely the right thing to do. He really had no alternative. Denying LGBT Americans the right to marry is declaring them second-class citizens, just because of their sexual orientation. It is outright discrimination. There is no way to defend it under the Constitution. And there is no way to defend it under the Bible, either.
Don’t listen to those who try to hide their bigotry behind the Bible. Nowhere in the Bible does God condemn homosexuality. And nowhere in the Bible does God say marriage must only be between one man and one woman. After all, Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. King David had at least seven wives. If we really wanted to practice marriage according to the Bible, we’d all be polygamists. For Christians, as President Obama told Robin Roberts, what really counts is the Golden Rule.
Of course, it also helped Obama that the vice president had come out for same-sex marriage three days earlier. Now if Joe Biden would only come out in favor of the legalization of marijuana!