The White House is not #30

10 May

“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” (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/10/us/politics/obama-says-same-sex-marriage-should-be-legal.html?_r=1). That’s President Obama endorsing same-sex marriage yesterday.

A watershed moment. A game changer. A quantum leap in the gay rights movement, according to headlines. The New York Times writes:

The first organizers of the modern gay-rights movement, after the June 1969 raid on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village in New York City, considered themselves bold in hoping they could pass nondiscrimination acts. They did not seriously contemplate a day when members of the same sex would be permitted to marry (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/10/us/politics/obamas-watershed-move-on-gay-marriage.html).

That was powerful and sobering to read: being equal wasn’t the vision in 1969. Just being less discriminated against.

I was also struck by a note in the Times about Obama’s long-observed reticence on the issue:

The president was at risk of seeming politically timid and calculating, standing at the sidelines while a large number of Americans—including members of both parties—embraced gay marriage. That is a particularly discordant image, many Democrats said, for the man who was the nation’s first black president.

[Note: For now, let’s just accept the nation’s continuing challenge with acknowledging Obama’s biracial heritage.]

Notwithstanding that, as the Times‘ acknowledged, “the issue [of same-sex marriage] remains highly contentious among black and Latino voters,” I have to ask what exactly is discordant about a black man not eagerly jumping into the front lines of the marriage equal rights movement? Is black, in the eyes of “many Democrats,” supposed to mean progressive? Automatically invested in equality for all people of all identities? Why was Obama’s hesitation, more than any white president’s, discordant?

I’m not arguing that Obama shouldn’t have endorsed same-sex marriage; I’m just saying I disagree that on the basis of race, he should have been any more likely, quick or logically inclined to champion the cause. Being black doesn’t trump being Christian or heterosexual. And it certainly doesn’t preclude being heterosexist or homophobic.

Notably, Obama’s made his statement in the first person personal (I’m coining a new class of pronoun here), framing his position as “for me personally”–without invoking his race… or office.

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