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Obama’s Endorsement of Gay Marriage: What it Really Means

The issue of gay marriage has greatly divided the aisles of American policymakers for years. An issue delicately intertwined with religion, tradition, values and progress is one that presidents have tended to avoid. The important thing to understand is the symbolism in Obama’s announcement and the evolution of his own position on gay marriage itself. In an April 2008 interview at the Saddleback Presidential Forum, Senator Barack Obama announced that as a Christian; “I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman”(Politico). Obama’s attitude continued to evolve as he understood the importance of ending discrimination in a changing nation. In an interview with ABC News on May 9 this year, President Obama expressed his personal support for same-sex couples to marry: “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” (Politico).

What does this really mean? Will we see Obama take a primary position in the 2012 election on the nationwide legalization of gay marriage? Absolutely not. While Obama’s support may act as a catalyst for other legislators to push this issue through congress, President Obama’s position is still aligned with Governor Romney, who feels that the issue should be left to the states. For gay rights advocates, it may seem unfortunate that the president shows no desire to pursue a new platform on a national level regarding gay marriage. The president’s position does, however, provide hope for those legislators who do wish to convince state legislatures to alter policy initiatives on gay marriage gain momentum. Symbolism is usually dismissed as plain rhetoric, but when it comes from the White House, this symbolism holds more clout than we have ever seen before.

Obama’s position on gay marriage’s effect on American public policy is evident, but its meaning extends farther than that in today’s world. Andrew Sullivan of Newsweek, an openly gay, married journalist explains his own interpretation of Obama’s courage in establishing a position on a subject close to his own heart: “To have the president of the United States affirm my humanity—and the humanity of all gay Americans—was, unexpectedly, a watershed. He shifted the mainstream in one interview. And last week, a range of Democratic leaders—from Harry Reid to Steny Hoyer—backed the president, who moved an entire party behind a position that only a few years ago was regarded as simply preposterous. And in response, Mitt Romney could only stutter” (Newsweek). As Sullivan expressed, the momentum that President Obama has unconsciously (or consciously) caused through his vocalized support of gay marriage has allowed the conversation to begin, state by state.

Sullivan, Andrew. “The First Gay President” Newsweek. May 21, 2012.

“Evolve: Obama Gay Marriage Quotes” Politico.

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