DISCLAIMER: The object of the article is not to express my personal view of same-sex marriage but to give an analysis on how it could impact the National Election.
“I’ve been going through an evolution on this issue. 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. I have hesitated on gay marriage in part because I thought that civil unions would be sufficient. I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people the word marriage was something that evokes very powerful traditions, religious beliefs and so forth.”
That announcement from Barack Obama during an ABC news interview is seen by many as a positive move. For many Americans, this is an announcement they feel they’ve waited too long to hear. For other Americans, they are unhappy at what he declared and can’t believe that an American president would approve of such a thing. One thing to take a note of is that Obama made that announcement almost six months before the American people go to vote for President of the United States. The question remains was that a smart pre-election move or a risky move?
To get an understanding of why the topic of same-sex marriage has always been a hot button, you have to look at social history. Same-sex relationships and activities have always been looked down upon worldwide throughout history. Things started changing starting in the late 60’s. The signs of changes coming first occurred in the late-40’s early 50’s when professor Alfred Kinsey published his findings on human sexuality and activity. Part of his findings included what he learned of homosexuality and he even talked of the seven levels of homosexuality from the completely heterosexual Level 0 to the fully homosexual Level 6. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that things reached a turning point in the US when openly gay politician Harvey Milk was voted into San Francisco city council and helped defeat a bill banning homosexuals from housing and teaching jobs in 1978. The 80’s was a hard and dark time for gay men as the AIDS epidemic had gay men as most of their victims. The 90’s experienced a resurgence of pride with President Bill Clinton urging gays in the military. It’s only until this century that the gay population of the United States saw the possibility of gay marriage. And with good reason.
Hard to believe that 25 years ago, the idea of same-sex marriage was unheard of anywhere in the world. The first sign of things to come happened when same-sex relations were first legitimized in Denmark back in 1989 as ‘legalized partnerships’. Many countries followed with their own recognition, like ‘registered partnerships’ or ‘life partnerships’, but it wasn’t until 2000 when the Netherlands became the first country to officially recognize same-sex matrimony. Belgium and the Canadian province of Ontario followed in 2003 with Spain following in 2005 and South Africa following in 2006. Today thirteen countries legally recognize same-sex marriages.
The United States was always hard to achieve legal recognition. Even if a President is liberal in beliefs and stances, he will face the pressures of the political opposition. That explains why even though Bill Clinton was the most ‘gay-friendly’ President Of The United States in its history and even supported gays in the military, he compromised to a ‘don’t ask: don’t tell’ rule. In 1996 he even signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which defines marriage as ‘one man and one woman’ after it was passed as law by Congress. Nevertheless the right would gradually increase state-by-state. It wouldn’t be until May 2004 that Massachusetts would become the first state in American history to legally recognize same-sex marriages. The issue of gay marriage would continue to be a state-by-state issue as some states would legitimize same-sex marriages while other states would pass laws prohibiting such recognition. Even some states–most noticeably the state of California with Proposition 8– would place the issue on the voter’s ballot. Currently nine states in the United States give full recognition to same sex marriages while most other states have either a statute or a constitutional law banning same-sex marriage. Nineteen states have a constitutional law banning recognition of any same-sex union.
Now comes President Barack Obama. Like Bill Clinton before him, Obama has also had his times of personal stances and bowing to pressures from the opposition. Obama favored legalizing same-sex marriages in a 1996 interview but during the 2008 Presidential Election campaign, he stated he believed marriage to be one man and one woman. Obama exhibited similar complications when in January 2009 he opposed a federal mandate for same-sex marriage and opposed DOMA. He’d continue to say that his opinion of same-sex marriage was ‘evolving’. However the first hint of Obama siding with the position of same-sex marriage came in February in 2011 when he announced that DOMA was unconstitutional. It wouldn’t be until May 9, 2012 that Obama would finally make his stance on same-sex marriage heard. His opinion was warmly greeted by many people, especially LBGT groups and other liberals. Some people were skeptical, feeling they might still get the same raw deal they’ve been getting for years. There’s no question that the upcoming Presidential Election had a lot to do with his announcement.
Even though Obama’s gay marriage stance appears as a positive step towards the upcoming election, there is also the opposite side as this could pave the way for a Republican being President. Of all issues facing the United States, it’s this issue that best resembles the current divisiveness and polarization of American politics. Its strongest opponents of course are those that side with the Republican Party and the values it stands for. The Republican Party has always left a bitter taste in the throats of the LGBT population of the United States. They still remember how conservative icon President Ronald Reagan sided with religious leaders; including the Moral Majority’s Jerry Falwell who declared the AIDS epidemic in the early 80’s as “God’s punishment to the gay lifestyle”. This may have a lot to do with the Reagan Administration’s slow acting upon the epidemic. President George Bush Sr. was strongly opposed to gays in the military and campaigned the Republican Party during the 1992 Presidential election as ‘the party of family values’: a title that has popularity stuck since. The younger George Bush even tried to push for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as ‘one man and one woman’ only to lose in the Supreme Court in 2004. Many believe his opposition to same-sex marriage is what helped him win the 2004 Election.
Soon after came the right-wing of the United States of today. You can hear it in the many voices of the right-wing pundits on the airwaves constantly stating their opposition to same-sex marriage, even going as far as declaring that ‘marriage is not a right’. Many Republicans strongly believe that defining marriage as ‘one man and one woman’ is a value instead of a prejudice. There’s even a set of voters in the millions that vote at election time on ‘family values issues’, known as ‘Values Voters’. Even Republican politician Mike Huckabee slammed Obama’s declaration of DOMA as ‘unconstitutional’ and a bad move come the Election. As expected, all candidates for the Republican Race were opposed to same-sex marriage.
You can bet after Obama’s stance that Wednesday, there was a lot of talk of the right-wing and the Republicans, especially from Race front-runner Mitt Romney. Three days after, Romney spoke to a graduating class at Liberty College reaffirming his opposition towards same-sex marriage and declaring his strong support for traditional Christian values. He even declared: that the “pre-eminence of the family” remains at the heart of the principles that underpin the nation. That drew a loud cheer from the 25,000 in the crowd.
There is an interesting footnote in Romney’s view. It’s also been known that he’s not opposed to same-sex adoption. Also interesting to know is just days after his stance on traditional marriage, it was brought to the attention that Romney was a high school bully who bullied an allegedly gay student because of his fancy hairstyle. Romney promptly apologized in public for all the bullying he did.
So Obama said his thoughts on same-sex marriage and the public have responded. His stance on same-sex marriage could either help him or hinder him. The big question is will it work against him n the upcoming Presidential Election or will it work for him? And if it does work for him, will that pave the way for full recognition of same-sex marriages in the whole of the United States? It will all be decided on November 6th, and possibly the four years after.
WIKIPEDIA: Timeline of Same-Sex Marriage. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc.
WIKIPEDIA: Same-Sex Marriage In The United States. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc.
Roberts, Robin. Interview. ABC News. May 2012. 9 May 2012. <http://news.yahoo.com/transcript-robin-roberts-abc-news-interview-president-obama-001212560–abc-news-topstories.html>
Parisse, Emmanuel. “Romney adamantly rejects same-sex marriage” Yahoo! News 12 May 2012. <http://news.yahoo.com/romney-courts-young-evangelicals-promotes-values-062331045.html>