Remember when Barack Obama bravely came out in favor of same-sex marriage before North Carolina voted on the issue? After all, Obama carried the state in 2008. The Democratic National Convention will be held there this summer. His strongest voting bloc, black Americans, was projected to vote for the pro-traditional marriage Amendment One by a 2-1 margin.
There’s good reason not to remember: there was no such profile in courage moment. North Carolina passed Amendment One with 61 percent of the vote, with the president tut-tutting about his disappointment, while aides tried furiously to walk back Vice President Joe Biden’s expressions of comfort with redefining marriage. Only the next day did Obama carefully and cautiously proclaim that he had found the missing link in his marriage evolution.
Indeed, the president’s position was as subjective as possible: “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.” As George Will has quipped, “If you struck from Barack Obama’s vocabulary the first-person singular pronoun, he would fall silent.”
Although he has opposed defense-of-marriage ballot initiatives throughout his presidency, even while nominally against same-sex marriage, Obama left the door open to them last week. He said that the definition of marriage should be left up to the states. Where Mario Cuomo once took a stand on abortion frequently described as “personally opposed, but,” Obama has pioneered the gay marriage stance “personally support, but.”
“Given the impotence of his endorsement, it really comes down to one man sharing his personal opinion about a moral matter with the rest of nation,” writes author and commentator Timothy Stanley. “And then making a lot of money out of it.”
Follow the money. The Washington Post has reported that one in six of Obama’s top campaign bundlers — the people who raise money hand over fist from the “1 percent” for the president’s reelection — is gay. The Hollywood Reporter noted that Obama’s diffidence on marriage left many rich celebrities and West Coast donors reluctant to open their wallets.
Hollywood has long led on the issue of gay marriage, putting the president at odds with them on the matter. During THR and Google’s Pre-White House Correspondents’ Dinner Party, nearly every celebrity surveyed listed the legalization of gay marriage on a national level among the issues about which they care most, if not number one. In a recent op-ed for THR, Dustin Lance Black came down hard on both Democrats and Republicans for their refusal to move forward on the issue.
Needless to say, that doesn’t track with the priorities of most ordinary voters on either side of the issue. But ordinary voters do not attend $40,000 per person Obama fundraising dinners at George Clooney’s house. Obama flew to join Clooney the day after he unburdened himself on gay marriage. The event was expected to bring in $15 million.
Within hours of Obama’s announcement, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) unveiled a new fundraiser asking donors to “stand with the president on marriage equality.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi signed a DCCC fundraising email announcing, “Breaking: President Obama supports marriage equality.”
According to one report, Obama raised $1 million within 90 minutes of announcing his support for gay marriage. An Obama bundler told BuzzFeed, “There are more LGBT co-chairs across the country are raising more money than we’ve ever raised. And you’ll see a lot more of that now.”
What we are also likely to see is an election that resembles 2004. George W. Bush was a wobbly, not-terribly popular incumbent; John Kerry was the not-especially beloved challenger from Massachusetts. The two campaigns worked very hard to win the presidency by maximizing their base voters.
By coming out for gay marriage, Obama has boosted the enthusiasm of core supporters — young people, liberals, gays and lesbians — in addition to his fundraising totals. (He may have some minor concerns with black churches getting out the vote at the margins.)
But he has created an equal and opposite reaction, helping Mitt Romney look more appealing to evangelical voters who haven’t been enthusiastic about the likely Republican nominee. And the HHS contraception mandate controversy may make it harder for evangelicals to believe that the government will allow them to stick to the traditional definition of marriage in their churches.
In 2004, Obama chided the pundits who “like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue.” But that mishmash of red and blue, divided along social, cultural, and religious lines, may be more representative national colors come November than the rainbow.
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