While select political commentators continue to fight mounting evidence that Mitt Romney is about to catch the electoral fade next Tuesday (in other words, lose), I’m more interested in seeing how voters react to the three separate ballot initiatives to legalize same-sex marriage in Washington state, Maryland and Maine on the ballot this year.
That’s largely due to the possibility that, for the very first time, one or more of these yay or nay for gay marriage ballot initiatives may result in favor of same sex marriage. Multiple factors can be attributed to this: gay people gaining greater visibility, and thus, acceptance; historical shifts in government policy via the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”; the Justice Department no longer defending the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
As a result, it is starting to dawn on millions of Americans that people like me deserve the right to love, marry, and ultimately divorce and burn down our ex-spouse’s car in a fit of rage ala Waiting To Exhale’s Bernadine Harris as straights do.
But if there’s any one person who can claim credit for significantly contributing to this cultural shift, it is President Barack Obama.
In his now historic interview with Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts earlier this year, President Obama revealed 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.”
The president has now gone one step further by urging voters to approve the gay-marriage measures on their respective ballots on November 6.
In a statement, Paul Bell, press secretary for Obama’s campaign in Washington and Oregon said, “While the president does not weigh in on every single ballot measure in every state, the president believes in treating everyone fairly and equally, with dignity and respect.”
I’m not completely naive, though.
I never bought Obama needing to “evolve” from a position he originally held in 1996 when he said, “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.” It’s fairly obvious that a shift had already started, making it safer for Obama to speak out in favor of gay marriage than any other time. Still, the extent to which Obama has fought for gay rights is unmatched by any president.
It was only eight years ago that Republicans baited conservatives to the polls by engineering ballot initiatives against same-sex marriage in a cynical ploy to bolster George W. Bush’s reelection efforts. Bush advisers like Matthew Dowd may now argue that “had no discernible effect on turnout among conservatives.”
But those measures didn’t come about via happenstance.
These days, Obama’s support of same-sex marriage is being used to convince Black voters to vote in favor of marriage equality initiatives like Question 6 in Maryland. Ads such as these serve as responses to clergymen both Black and White alike who have cited scripture to block gay marriage under the pretense of saving “traditional marriage.”
I find this funny for several reasons.
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1) The state grants the power to marry, not any religious person.
2) The history of marriage reads a lot like this: “In tracing the origins of marriage customs, we find that marriage has evolved through three general stages: marriage by force or capture, marriage by purchase or contract, and marriage by mutual love.”
If these dowry-loving traditionalists were so hung up on tweaks of the institution, one would think their fight would’ve started with common law marriage eons ago.
3) Lastly, to hear some Black Christians use selective interpretations of Biblical text to justify any stance that strips another group of a certain right is painfully ironic. Are these people that ignorant of what religion did to them once upon a time?
I absolutely hate that the rights of a relatively minuscule minority are contingent on the approval of a voting majority.
A majority who might be swayed due to a failure to understand allegory and idioms of a different period in time. I hate even more that, for the foreseeable future, this is how gay marriage will be decided until the Supreme Court has its say.
Nevertheless, I take comfort in President Obama lending his name to the fight. It’s a testament to his decency and leadership. He didn’t have to stick his neck out, but he has — seemingly because he believes it is the right thing to do. Regardless of the outcome of these measures, it’s quite significant that Obama would lend his support in this way.
Those in favor of civil rights for gays ought to be most grateful.
Michael Arceneaux is a Houston-bred, Howard-educated writer and blogger. You can read more of his work on his site, The Cynical Ones. Follow him on Twitter: @youngsinick