Friday, 11 May 2012

Why Obama's views on Gay Marriage are Important

The last day or so I have born witness to a kerfuffle online in response the the US President's comments on one of the largest civil rights issues of modern times, that of gay people having the right to marry.

It seems unsurprising that it was the first black President who happened to be a Democrat who became the first serving US President to come out in favour of the issue. It was the timing that shocked me though. In the UK we are having the same debate, but support for gay marriage is high with a Telegraph poll recently showing public support for gay marriage at 78%. Here politicians are reacting in line with the public mood, but Obama has stuck his neck out on an issue that still cuts a fissure through American society. This is surprising in the run up to an election as well as the fact that two groups on whose vote the incumbent President relies, blacks and hispanics, are amongst the most sceptical about the issue.

It's is, however, worth mentioning that a few of Obama's cabinet, including Vice-President Biden, had started the ball rolling a week or so before. It is unclear as to whether their announcements were planned or not.

Buy why would I be interested in what the US President thinks on this issue when I'm in a country where I will be able to marry whomever I want by the end of this parliamentary term (fingers crossed)? The fact is this is going to be huge for gay rights internationally. I have seen how the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office have, quite literally, flown the flag for gay rights around the world; it has become common to see the rainbow flag flying above a British embassy or consulate during Pride events in different countries in support of foreign LGBT communities. If the most powerful nation in the world begins to take a similar stance then this could be pivotal for the international gay rights movement. Obama has stated that it should still be up to the states to decide their stance on the issue, which I think is fair despite some criticisms from gay commentators. Gay marriage should be wanted by the people and not force-fed, lest resentment of LGBT people becomes worse. But with this kind of ideology at the top, internationally we can hope that stances will evolve.


Jocy said...

I don't agree that it should be up to the individual state to decide whether they allow gay marriage, because I don't believe allowing it is "force feeding" it. If people do not want to partake in gay marriage, they do not have to. But I believe the option should be there for everyone who wishes to. Really great blog, I love how concise and short this is, because I've felt a bit overwhelmed by all the articles I've been reading lately. This was informative and to the point (:

Jeff Edelman said...

It was good to see Obama finally state that he supports gay marriage. And it was a risky move on his part because this probably hurts him more than helps him in terms of his re-election campaign. But I am very disappointed that he doesn't frame the issue in terms of a civil rights issue. This is most definitely a civil rights issue and shouldn't be left up to each state to decide how they want to deal with this issue. So Obama still hasn't gone all the way with it. Hopefully, he will complete his evolution on the issue by pressing it as a civil right.

rhymingwithoranges said...

I stand by the fact I believe it should be a state decided issue. The improvement of civil rights regarding race in te US came about because the populace wanted it. If it has been dictated from above I don't think we would have seen the cultural shift that we did. Policies should reflect the people's will, not the other way around. Public opinion is already swinging in the direction of support of gay rights but I think te cause may go backwards if it were centrally decided.

Michael Markman said...

Jazza, that's not how it happened with regard to race. Throughout the debate, conservatives framed it as a matter of states rights. They said that the Federal Government shouldn't intervene. Things began changing when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools were inherently unequal (1954) Some states still resisted integration. The Governor of Arkansas called out the national guard (the state's militia) to block the first nine black children from entering a white school in 1957. President Eisenhower sent in federal troops and commandeered the state's militia to force the desegregation of the school.
The next big milestone was the passage of the civil rights act of by Congress in 1964. It covered a number of issues including voting rights, discrimination in public accommodations (restaurants, hotels). Candidate Ron Paul was among those who opposed it—and still believes that the Federal Government should not have the power to force private businesses to serve black customers. Getting that law passed was one of the supreme achievements of President Lyndon Johnson and he probably wouldn't have done it except for the wave of emotion that followed the Kennedy assasination.

Michael Markman said...

Jocy, Obama has little choice in the matter. Given the makeup of the Congress, there is no way at the current time to pass a national law allowing same-sex marriage. I should point out that the opponents of same-sex marriage are trying to nationalize the issue to prohibit it. Mitt Romney, for example, has signed a pledge to support an amendment to the federal constitution that would prohibit same sex marriage—even in those states that now permit it.