Joyce L. Arnold, Liberally Independent, Queer Talk, equality activist, writer.
Since Obama’s announcement that “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,” I’ve been as fascinated by the ways the decision, and the timing, is being discussed, analyzed, praised, and condemned as by the story itself. It’s always interesting to see which “gay” stories grab mainstream – media and in general – attention.
As for the decision itself, I still think what I wrote on Wednesday : It finally became more politically harmful than helpful for Obama to continue the “evolving” process. I’m glad he finally got there, though what it “means” has a lot of interpretations, including the “it was part of a brilliant plan” conjecture. As I also said earlier, I still think it’s the grassroots people, local, state and national organizations, LGBT media, with allies, of course, who did the work that made it possible.
Obama’s emphasis on this being his “personal” view made me think of, among other things, that feminist assertion, “the personal is political.” Yes, it is. But neither the “personal” nor the “political” guarantee what an Elected’s policies will be. It’s policies and laws that spell out the meaning and realities of equality. Along with court decisions. Campaigns are about getting elected. They’re about the political and the personal, but what they tell us about eventual policies is sketchy at best.
Rachel Maddow did a segment in which she emphasizes that policy is more important than personal views. She compares what Obama has actually done toward LGBT equality – which is significant, even if I think he, as Electeds often do, gets credit for work done by others – and compares the Obama policy actions to the personal “I actually like gays” pronouncements by other presidents.
Whatever you think of all of this, the fight goes on. Advocacy, fierce and otherwise, doesn’t have an off season. Strategies and tactics change, depending on the strength and decisions – and policies – of your team, but the advocacy continues. Obama moved because Obama was pushed to move. The Right quickly jumped on this as a “flip-flop” weakness, a subject you’d think they’d want to avoid.
Anyway, I think it’s fair to point out that it took a lot of time and energy and effort by LGBT’s and allies, and it took the majority of Obama’s first term, to get to this point. If this is the big deal so many say it is – pro and con – then it’s also a big deal that he waited to do it.
At Buzzfeed Zeke Miller wrote:
After three years of political compromise on issues from health care reform to spending cuts, Obama delivered a surprise gift to what many of his core supporters view as the civil rights issue of the day … .
No, damn it, it wasn’t a “gift.” It’s a very hard earned acknowledgement of a right. The statement of his “personal” belief is great, it can have real consequences, and I mean beyond the boost in political campaign fundraising (which began immediately). But equality isn’t a “gift” to be bestowed by an Elected personally and/or politically inclined to do so. It’s a right, one that requires policies and the enactment of laws to make practical, defendable differences.
I’d guess that Obama’s campaign move – and that’s what it was, of course – is based in some real conviction that it’s the “right thing to do,” as Electeds are so fond of telling us. And I know, from reading around the web and talking with lots of people the last few days, that many are excited by this. But I wonder if the fact that it’s the work of many who made this Obama Moment possible isn’t getting lost. More, is this really a “very risky” political step, as I’ve read in several places, especially considering the ever further Right movement of the Republican presidential hunt?
Is saying you support marriage equality early in your political career but then saying you don’t when you run for the presidency really an “example of courage” or a “model” for how to be an LGBT equality ally, as is being fairly widely proclaimed? Or, does this incremental, cautious approach simply represent the process followed by many on their way to being an out LGBT supporter? Maybe that’s one reason for the “he’s a hero” attitude for admirers, and the “he’s a threat” attitude from some on the Right, including Romney.
Whatever your conclusions about that, remember: Obama said something in addition to expressing his personal belief. As Darren Hutchinson writes:
… (Obama) also qualified this position in a way that is very important from a legal standpoint. Obama believes that states should have the power to decide this issue on their own.
Which means it was okay when North Carolina joined so many other states in putting a decision regarding who deserves, and doesn’t deserve, equality up for a popular vote.
Basically, I take such moments as Obama’s “coming out” for marriage equality with what to me is simply a realistic qualifier: after many years of advocacy work, that’s one step forward we’ve earned. But don’t be surprised when there’s a step or two backward (not just by Obama), and be even less surprised when there are extended periods of running in place, or shifting of feet. And that’s a description of the Electeds working for equality. There’s the other whole group who are actively opposing it.
When Electeds act for equality on the basis of the hard work of advocates, give the Electeds the credit deserved. I don’t discount the significance of Obama’s statement. It’s important, to the point of being considered newsworthy in the MSM. But I don’t assign it heroic status. That goes to the people doing the daily grind of grassroots advocacy.