My Monday post originally was going to riff off of the words of former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell who urged Barack Obama "to man up" and endorse gay marriage, an issue which took on a new urgency with North Carolina this week becoming the 30th state to ban same-sex unions. Whether the president was heeding Rendell's advice or not, his endorsement in a television interview today carried very little political risk and was years overdue.
Hitting exactly the right note, Obama told ABC News that "At a certain point, I've just concluded for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married" in taking a definitive stand on what commentators call one of the most contentious and politically charged social issues of the day.
Commentators, as usual, are well behind the curve.
The issue certainly is contentious for religious conservatives and most Republicans, but with every passing year a growing majority of Americans -- and that majority is growing faster that most pollsters have predicted -- say that gay and lesbian couples should be afforded the same rights as heterosexual couples. The reason is simple: Most of us know gays, some of us roomed with them in college and consider them to be among their best friends, we watch the television shows in which same-sex couples appear, and have come to understand that sexual orientation is an individual choice and certainly not something that the government should regulate.
In contrast, Mitt Romney, Obama's presumptive Republican rival, not only opposes same-sex marriage but favors a Constitutional amendment to forbid it.
That position is safe for Romney because to believe otherwise would alienate his already shaky party base. It is just as safe for the president because few voters are likely to cross over to the Republican side in November simply because he has now endorsed same-sex marriage and it will be a fundraising boon for him.
Opponents of same-sex marriage say that Obama's decision will hurt him in battleground states, most of whom have laws against such unions, but polls tell a different story. The nonpartisan Pew Research Center found that a plurality of swing voters favors same-sex marriage, 47 percent to 39 percent, and outside the South the margin widens to a majority of 53 percent in favor and 35 percent opposed.
Across the aisle, at it were, is Mitt Romney, who to my knowledge has never placed principle above political interests. The moral high ground is often based on unpopular choices, and the presumptive Republican nominee wouldn't know the moral high ground if it bit him in the ass.
Given my own background, the belated nature of the endorsement has been painful.My parents taught my siblings and myself that people were to be judged by their actions, not who they happened to be. It was no big deal that three of their best friends were gay -- two men who owned a restaurant had lived together for many years and a psych nurse who happened to be a lesbian. I was especially found of her because she let me drive her MG convertible after I got my driver's license.Several of my professional friends have been gays and lesbians, I hired the first openly gay editor at a newspaper where I worked and lost another gay friend -- who was married and closeted -- in the early 1980s to what we later came to understand was AIDS.At the end of the day -- and it has been a singularly significant day for gay rights -- not one mind will have been changed on the issue. It didn't take courage for Obama to recognize that. It only took way too long.