The Nation's Pulse

Obama, Where Art Thou?

Why his recent comments on marriage infuriated gay rights activists.

By 6.25.08

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Barack Obama has a marriage problem.

No, not that kind. To all appearances, Barack and Michelle Obama are happily married. Rather, this marital malady concerns one state, California, and one political movement, the push to redefine marriage.

It began May 15 when the Golden State's top court struck down a voter-approved marriage law and culminated June 16, the date when same-sex couples could legally marry.

Media conglomerates from across the country covered the historic day. The party atmosphere grew (San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom told Time magazine the mood around city hall was "electric") as county clerks opened their doors and began issuing marriage licenses June 17. After tying the knot, homosexual couples were only too willing to pose for cameras and have their moment broadcast around the world.

"I see before me people who personify love and commitment. I see people who are the personifications of joy and celebration," said actor George Takei, Sulu on the original Star Trek, just before he and his partner got a marriage license.

Journalists triumphantly chronicled the same-sex nuptials via hundreds of human-interest stories. AP writer Malia Wollan wrote about two men -- one dressed in a kilt, the other "a white jacket adorned with feathers," both wearing pink orchid leis around their necks -- who married in Contra Costa County.

The San Francisco Chronicle described a group of eighth-grade graduates who went to see their history teacher marry her partner. One student said her class had been learning about LGBT rights in school, and that it was "cool" to see it for real.

A reporter for the Edmonton Sun predicted an economic boom for California from this "summer of love" caused by the influx of gay nuptials.

If nothing else, the stories reveal one fact: social liberals are euphoric. Civil rights upheld, the economy blossoming, kids getting a well-rounded education -- all is good in the world.

Right up until Barack Obama opened his mouth.

IN AN INTERVIEW with ABC News's Jack Tapper, Obama denied that the homosexual marriages taking place in California bothered him, but then he committed the cardinal faux pas of liberal doctrine by restating the traditional definition of marriage.

"I do believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, but I also think that same-sex partners should be able to visit each other in hospitals, they should be able to transfer property," he said.

Big mistake. The liberal media and blogosphere pounced, hard. In a blog post tastefully titled "Shut The Hell Up," Sara Whitman, a self-described suburban lesbian housewife, called out Mr. Change for his rhetoric.

"If I hear 'Marriage is between one man and one woman' one more time from Obama's mouth -- or any Democrats mouth -- I'm going to scream," she wrote. "How is this change? Leadership? Hope? Or do only straight people get to hope?"

The online homosexual publication Queerty had some advice for Obama, too. The editors warned that "Whitman's anger clearly indicates that Obama and his campaign could be in dangerous territory with some gays -- clearly, Obama should keep his gay explanations to a minimum."

Some mainstream media outlets picked up on the tension as well. In the Reuters blog post "No cake for Obama at same-sex weddings," Peter Henderson said the passion of same-sex couples in California had cooled when the topic turned to Obama.

"With all due respect to Mr. Obama, he is not doing anything to ensure my rights," Ilana Kaufman of Oakland, Calif., told Reuters. "Domestic partnership is separate, and it's not equal."

THIS UNDERLINES THE tension that, for years, has seethed between the Democratic Party bosses and homosexual-rights activists on the issue of marriage. The far left wants strong rhetoric and actions to back it up. Politicians have elections to think about.

Striking the delicate balance between energizing the homosexual-rights voting bloc (a solid component of the Democratic base) and avoiding offense of traditionally minded Americans is hardly an enviable task. John Kerry tried in 2004 and failed -- badly.

But the scenario is supposed to be different with Obama. He's the candidate of change and hope, the man who has generated a near-messianic following. He doesn't just wear his liberalism on his sleeve -- he plasters it across his forehead.

He's a new kind of politician: modish, charismatic, compassionate, in touch with the young but appealing to the old, a sure bet to bring down gas prices, beat al Qaeda, and restore American prosperity.

Homosexual activists are so agitated by Obama's stance on marriage rights because he is supposed to be the new candidate, not bound to the dictates of the past. Yet he regurgitates the same old talking points on matrimony, with scant deviation from the positions espoused by John McCain.

Obama's stance on marriage likely won't cost him much support in the general election, even among gays. Bloggers will complain, but the pressure will dissipate. It's a common, and in some cases unfortunate, reality of elections -- pet passionate issues are forgotten by the time November roles around and the competition between candidates is thick.

But still, we saw something important this week: Obama is hardly the Democrats' perfect savior. And at least on this one issue, he's anything but the candidate of change.

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About the Author
David N. Bass is a journalist who writes from the Old North State. Follow him on Twitter.