Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Why Obama Cannot Support LGBT Marriage

Yesterday afternoon, I read the first several pieces to surface with information regarding Obama's 1996 support of lgbt marriage. To be honest, I was not surprised, no matter WHAT he has said, politically, before the public and press.

I want to discuss not only how I feel about this, but take a walk through some history to see WHY Obama's 1996 statement, clearly in contradiction with his statements in 2007 and 2008 as he ran for, and won the presidency, is the true one and not what we have been hearing more recently.

You all know how I personally feel about this, so I needn't explain my own convictions other than to say that until all are equal, none are equal.

Here are a few links to articles on the 1996 Obama statements on a variety of lgbt issues: here, here, and here (these among others, the last of these has all the documents captured and readable on his statements for your perusal, and I strongly urge you to read them).

So, what are we to make of this? Well here is my take and this comes from someone that can be--though is usually not--a political pragmatist. I apologize for the length.

Obama is a constitutional scholar. Having taught constitutional law for over a decade, Obama knows full well that, legally, separate is not equal. So, is his current tact (supports equal rights but not marriage) just political? That's my guess.

While campaigning, Obama said he did not support gay marriage (while supporting repeal of DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, which, as this article points out, is hardly an easy thing to understand), he also said he did not support Proposition 8 which not only outlawed future same gender marriage but some suggest legislated the dissolution of 18,000 extent same gender marriages in California. (Note: The language of the bill is pretty short if not sweet: Prop 8: Changes California Constitution to eliminate right of same-sex couples to marry. Provides that only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. Fiscal Impact: Over the next few years, potential revenue loss, mainly sales taxes, totaling in the several tens of millions of dollars, to state and local governments. In the long run, likely little fiscal impact to state and local governments.) [my red emphasis and link]

Again, Obama is clear about the matter of civil rights in 1996 and clearly opposed Proposition 8 in 2008 (though I have found nothing to give reason) but is far less clear on DOMA while clearly supporting repeal of DADT (Don't Ask, Don't Tell, see below).

Obama is not clear about how he intends to proceed, and this seems to be the absolute stopping point for us all: We don't know what he means or what he will do. Of course, we have to admit, given he hasn't assumed the presidency yet, this should hardly be a surprise.

So I have to ask myself this, from a pragmatic point of view:

Is it better to have a president that understands equal rights but doesn't openly advocate for same gender marriage during the election cycle, or is it better to have a president in the closet about the issue (forgive the pun, please) who might well quietly work for gay marriage given he clearly understands the constitutional and legal backdrop of the matter?

My Case

First, let me reiterate that during his campaign, Obama had said that DADT (Don't Ask, Don't Tell) would remain an issue at large until his hoped-for second term. THAT changed recently, as I posted here. That one change, mostly ignored by the mainstream media (MSM) signaled to me that we aren't in shallow water anymore. More is going on than meets the eye. It also signaled to me that he is clearly hearing from the lgbt community, and their supporters, that equality cannot wait.

Second, Colin Powell, after having supported Obama, issued a strong statement (watch the short CNN video) saying DADT does need to be revisited and went so far as to say he believes that Obama agrees. That might seem a minor thing, but it isn't considering Powell's history on the matter, his support of Obama, and the fact he went to the MSM to say so. It's the difference between announcing a wedding to close friends over dinner and doing so on the front page of The New York Times.

Furthermore, if Powell is going in this direction, you can be sure that others in the military are, likewise. One thing about Obama is clear: He does not listen to one voice, he listens to many before he makes a decision and let me remind you of the huge line of military showcased at the dem's national convention where Obama accepted the party nomination. That was no accident, rather an important statement.

Despite Powell's considerable errors on Iraq under Bush, he remains a respected mainstream voice, especially among people who listen carefully to those in uniform and often take their lead on issues. Many Americans were puzzled or delighted in Powell's support of Obama. Sure, some fired that Powell's support of Obama was "race"-based support, but that was the right wing waxing nonsense and throwing their last disgusting wad of spit into the public arena prior to the election.

Powell made his case for Obama--and his case against McCain and Palin--and I believe it was genuine.

There's fire here, not just smoke.

My Case and Historical Perspective
Now let's take a walk through a period of history that changed American politics for the last 45 years--and the lives of countless millions in this country.

Let's look at Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (and later the Voting Rights Act of 1965) and what happened, politically, because of these important bills.

LBJ knew when he advocated (with a stick--that was pretty much his way of herding dem party cats!) for the 1964 Act, and at its signing, that, as he opined, "We [the democratic party] have lost the South for a generation." [emphasis and inclusion mine]

What Johnson didn't anticipate was the loss of the presidency (in terms of frequency) for well OVER a generation, loss of a united democratic and presidential majority for the majority of the last 45 years, and the creation of the racially divisive Southern Strategy/republican strategy that exists today:

From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don't need any more than that... but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That's where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.
1970, Kevin Phillips, Nixon Strategist, The New York Times

The point is, that political decisions have legs for decades (as LBJ envisioned, and as history confirmed) and the strength of a party can be wiped out (regardless of the reason) in favor of another. The results of ONE issue, politically, can change the gold-standard of the country, in terms of political party, for decades--as it did.

In the intervening years between LBJ and Obama, democrats held the office of president for only 12 of the 36 years through Presidents Carter (four years) and Clinton (eight years). During these presidencies, Carter had a dem party majority in the US Senate for all four years of his presidency, and Clinton had a US senate dem majority for only two years. And majority doesn't tell the tale. If you only have a majority, and not a veto-proof majority (60 votes), the power of the majority is far less potent and cannot stop filibusters though, politically, one can assume that even dem party members will not always support dem issues, and some republicans might.

At stake in the 2008 election of Obama, and likewise members of congress, especially the senate, was control of the lower and particularly the upper house (and a hoped-for filibuster-proof majority) and the presidency. As you realize, many congressional members are elected on the coat tails of the president.

On November 4, 2008, there were 49 republicans, 49 dems, and two independents [Sanders (VT) and Lieberman (CT)] in the US Senate. With the Franken (D, winner)/Coleman (R) election in the Minnesota court, were Franken to eventually be seated, that would bring to 59 the number of democrats in the US Senate--one vote shy of a majority which could stop filibusters by opponent republicans.

Is the Southern Strategy still alive and kicking today? You bet. The tired old racial divide is
going screaming and kicking into its goodnight.

The November 4, 2008 election of Obama was a major break-away from this travesty as several red states became pink, purple or changed to blue. But the deep south (see second map) still maintains its red hue while the Bible Belt (see first map), especially in the very red deep south, very, very slowly changes and overlaps the very deep red in the deep south where the Southern Strategy remains effective enough to hold sway.

Both the Southern Strategy and the Bible Belt come significantly into play on lgbt issues including gay marriage as do states with significant predominate religions (e.g. Utah).

Politics and Sausage: It's better not to see either being made
I cannot say whether the choice of Christian Conservative Rick Warren to give the inaugural invocation was a choice of politics, example, inaugural-by-committee or any or all of these things. No one knows, or at least no one is taking on the record about it. We may not know until Obama's presidential biography is written in years to come.

What we do know is that, in light of California's Prop 8, the issue of gay marriage is hardly settled not only in the (allegedly liberal) Golden State but in most other states. In light of the calendar of the California Supreme Court, and its hearing on challenges to Prop 8's passage, we are hopeful to have a decision this spring.

But the national issue of repeal of DADT and/or DOMA (and here), remain in the balance with DADT the likely first repealed if either.

There has certainly been NO mention of some sort of federal protection for same gender marriage and that is not to come, imho, for many, many years. Rather, Obama seems content to let the states decide, individually. THUS, it is easy, in that light, and given his history on the matter, to conclude that while he may personally support gay marriage in concept, he is NOT going to go out on a political limb to achieve it. He is going to let us duke it out at the state level and perhaps clear some sort of path through the repeal of DADT.

So, how do I feel about that? Well (and remember I am writing from a pragmatist point of view here), I think he has no choice, actually. Were Obama to come out guns blazing on this issue, the dems could be wiped out in 2010 and 2012 in the short term, and, like the dems post 1964, for decades.

It is important to remember that we have some horrible issues to deal with right now, including winding up a war-turned-occupation that should have never started (Iraq), trying to figure out what to do in a war that was dropped (Afghanistan), trying to avoid a war (Iran) and trying to keep the middle east, in general, from a complete meltdown not to mention India and Pakistan and the frequently pissy North Korea. Then there is the global economy and our national economy, energy (and the associated issue of energy security and global warming), how to deal with the incredible number of crimes committed by a bevy of folks in the last eight years (torture, among them) etc.

Every single person reading this knows that if we do not do the above right, our gooses are cooked and it won't matter who can marry who, the GOP could recover not only the house chambers but the white house and so begin eight more years of tyrannical rule that could make the last eight years look like a walk in the park. THIS is why, in my opinion, Obama will not go out on a political limb.

So, what will it take to achieve the needed civil rights? You, me and everyone we can muster to stay active and convince our representatives that rights are not just theoretical "things" but living entities.

This is not a happy conclusion. It isn't even a remotely satisfactory conclusion. The only thing I can say, at this point, is that it looks like the only conclusion.