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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Obama On SSM

Along with the usual trolls, some on the left go all out on President Obama, which sometimes annoys me even more. They should know better, right?  

One lame attack is on his gay rights bona fides, along with a shot at him  "for it after being against it" on same sex marriage. After supporting it on a questionnaire (I never saw the specifics in the past, but here you go) when he was a local politician before SSM was found in even one state, he changed his views as society did as a matter of political reality and the art of possible.  Meanwhile, he supported more gay rights than many, and led the movement to do away with DADT and eventually to push for heightened scrutiny for sexual orientation as a matter of federal constitutional law.  

The "reality based community" should realize that as a whole he was great on this issue, unless "great" requires being far left.  The overall argument holds for other issues too though there are levels of how off base the criticisms are depending on the issue. For instance, I think he has been fairly horrible on transparency and trying to block lawsuits (which however great they are given current law would often fail if taken to trial) on states secrecy grounds or the like.  I think that is one of the areas where he does have something to answer for, beyond questionable pragmatism.

His book Audacity of Hope (2006, one state with SSM, maybe a few with some sort of civil unions) is pretty useful here and darn if few actually cite it even though Obama explains himself well. First, he overall says something I fully agree with -- liberals should own talk of "values," since that is a general way we talk and our values count too. Al Franken was a big promoter of this back when he had his talk show. Second, Obama comes out as a Christian who opposes relying on a few often opaque verses of the Bible to label gays and lesbians as immoral. 

More specifically, see pages 222-23, he is "not willing to have the state deny American citizens a civil union that confers equivalent rights on such basic matters as hospital visitation and health insurance coverage simply because the people they love are the same sex."  This was more than most places, including NY, consistently provided. The phrasing might seem a bit weak, but that just underlines the low level of equal rights for GLBT at the time.  A federal benefit providing even that, which admittedly is a bit thin and vague would have been a big step eight years ago.  And, in time, he did clearly support "civil unions," which again even when he first ran for President would be more than most states, including many fairly liberal ones, had.  

His pragmatism on this point was also underlined in the book. He argued that "in the absence of any meaningful consensus, the heightened focus on marriage was a distraction from other, attainable measures to prevent discrimination against gays and lesbians." And, again, he supported such things in ways that would have moved things significantly forward.  Now, this might -- like abolitionists who felt Lincoln was too pragmatic -- seem too little for some. But, it is a fairly realistic thing to support while still pushing the movement for equality forward. Many inside the movement itself shared such a "step by step" strategy as other movements have.

My personal problem with his remarks when I first read the book was his voicing his religious stance on the issue.  Whatever his religious views, we are talking about state definitions here. A person's religious beliefs on abortion is their own, but opposition there should not determine (though it is likely to influence in some sense) how they would let others have a legal right to choose. If he supported "civil unions" for same sex couples, as a matter of law, he either should support it for all -- end the word "marriage" -- or evenhandedly support legal marriage.  Basically, I felt he was singling out this one area to insert his religious views though yes, I also was bothered by them too.  But, he can have them, I guess.

Anyway, his religious opposition to same sex marriage was of limited concern, and any somewhat cynical expression of it to appeal to certain voters understandable politics. Why? Because on the whole, he was sound on this issue.  Particularly, Obama cited that he was open-minded on the issue, open to change. This reflects the stance of society on various social issues.  And, since as a politician and President in particular, "meaningful consensus" is significant here -- it also is as a matter of constitutional law -- the change would in part be motivated by social change.

Campaign volumes can be quite telling. 

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