A Decisive Affirmation of LGBT Americans
A growing sense of anticipation had descended upon the nation's capital by the time ABC News' Robin Roberts arrived at the White House on Wednesday afternoon for her hastily arranged exclusive interview with President Barack Obama. Speculation had grown throughout the day that he was about to publicly endorse marriage for same-sex couples for the first time. And then it happened.
"I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that 'don't ask don't tell' is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, 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," said Obama.
This personal declaration capped off a sometimes awkward evolution on marriage for same-sex couples that threatened to alienate some of the president's most enthusiastic supporters who had grown increasingly impatient with his failure to publicly back the issue. Vice President Joe Biden's endorsement of nuptials for gays and lesbians during a pre-taped interview that aired on "Meet the Press" on Sunday and the passage of a constitutional amendment that defined marriage as between a man and a woman in North Carolina only exacerbated this growing angst.
What led the country to this landmark moment?
A Gallup poll on Tuesday-the same day that North Carolina voters approved Amendment One-found that 50 percent of Americans support nuptials for same-sex couples. An Arcus Foundation-funded report that the National Council of La Raza and Social Science Research Solutions released last month noted that 54 percent of Latinos now back marriage for gays and lesbians. While Obama's position is consistent with the majority of Americans, nearly half of the country remains opposed to nuptials for same-sex couples.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney attempted to tap into this opposition at an Oklahoma campaign event hours after the president's announcement. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) made a similar statement against marriage for gays and lesbians during a Fox Business interview.
Does this entrenched opposition to nuptials for same-sex couples even matter anymore?
Boehner himself appeared to answer this question with his assertion that congressional Republicans remain focused on the economy.
"The American people are still asking the question, 'Where are the jobs?' he said during the Fox Business interview. "Our focus is going to continue to be on the economy like it has been for the last year and a half."
Only 19 percent of those who participated in the Conservative Political Action Conference's annual straw poll in February listed "traditional values" as the most important issue in this election cycle. Only one percent of participants who voted in the 2011 CPAC straw poll said stopping marriage for gays and lesbians was their top priority.
Politics ultimately determines the content of any president's public statements, and Obama's endorsement of marriage for gays and lesbians is certainly no different. This watershed moment was much more than a cynical political calculation. It was a decisive affirmation that the president truly believes that LGBT Americans deserve full equality.
And for that, we should be grateful.