Do the evolution

As everyone not living under a rock now knows, in an interview with ABC yesterday, President Obama–who recently had said that his views were “evolving”–announced that he now supports the right of same-sex couples to get married.

Some liberal critics complained that Obama’s announcement does nothing to change the status quo, with marriage still being essentially a state matter. This of course was vividly demonstrated just two days ago by North Carolina’s amendment of its state constituion to exclude recognition of any relationships other than heterosexual marriage, even civil unions.

But others pointed out–such as in this article–that this may be part of a broader strategy on the part of the administration. This strategy includes its ending of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and its decision to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court. In addition to being good ideas on the merits, these may help set the legal stage down the road for the courts to recognize a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. As Chris Geidner, the author of the article, sums it up, “Obama’s legal, policy and personal views are not in any way contradictory and present a clear path forward toward the advancement of marriage equality across the country.”

Also worth noting is that the president couched his change of mind in explicitly religious terms. Writing at Religion Dispatches, Sarah Posner highlights this part of Obama’s comments:

when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated. And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids and that’s what motivates me as president and I figure the most consistent I can be in being true to those precepts, the better I’ll be as a as a dad and a husband and hopefully the better I’ll be as president.

Posner goes on to contend that

Obama didn’t just endorse same-sex marriage today. He abandoned conservative religious rhetoric about it and signaled that religious conservatives, even his close religious advisors, don’t own the conversation on what Christianity has to say about marriage.

Similarly, Ed Kilgore writes today that Obama’s “evolution” actually puts him in closer alignment with his own relgious tradition, the United Church of Christ, which has affirmed same-sex relationships as a denomination since 2005:

Relgious conservatives may scoff at the UCC (or the Episcopalians, or other mainline denominations that are, to use the buzzword, “open and affirming” to gay people). But the UCC is the country’s oldest Christian religious community, and among other things, was spearheading the fight against slavery back when many of the religious conservatives of the early nineteenth century were largely defending it as a divinely and scripturally ordained instituion.

So Obama has pretty strong authority for saying there’s no conflict between his faith and support for same-sex marriage.

Liberals are prone to arguing in bloodless, technocratic terms, so it was nice to see Obama making the case in explicitly moral–even religious–language. I personally think liberals could stand to do this more often.

Of course, no one seriously doubts, I think, that there was at least some degree of political calculation in this announcement. (Do presidents ever say anything that isn’t politically calculated to some degree?) And it remains to be seen if that calculation will pay off in November. But even granting mixed nature of his motives (and Christians of all people should be the first to acknowledge that we never act from completely pure motives), it was the right thing to do. Nice job, Mr. President.

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5 thoughts on “Do the evolution”

  1. It is refreshing to hear a religious argument for marriage equality. The conservatives don’t own religion. When Obama was running for president, I remember being disappointed in him because he wouldn’t then support marriage equality – there was some sort of dust-up between him and Gary Newsom – I’m glad he has worked his way to this point.

    1. There is no religious argument for same sex marriage, beyond spouting “Christ loved everyone. Therefore, you can really do pretty much whatever you want, except what I don’t like.” Being a religious person with an argument or a will does not suffice to make a religious argument.

      Pass as many laws as you like – there is no such thing as “gay marriage”, and never will be. There will just be a ceremony – perhaps with some cake, yum yum – that few people take seriously beyond it being a party with, perhaps, a dress code.

      And the fun fact is, everyone – even the brides and grooms in attendance – will be aware of this, even if they never say it out loud.

      1. You know, it really hardly matters anymore what anybody’s particular idea is about this topic, or what anybody’s bugaboo about “marriage” happens to be. Is marriage “defined as being between a man and a woman”? Well, cool – except that reality is going to continue to tell an inconveniently different story.

        The truth is that there are already gay couples who’ve been together – married, for all intents and purposes, even if not legally – for dozens of years. Gay couples have adopted children; one couple I know has adopted four kids who were languishing in foster care after having been abandoned by their birth parents. There are single gay people, too, who long to find a partner.

        And as a matter of fact, there’s some early data that says “marriage,” per se, is good for gay people (which just confirms longer-term data that’s always said that it’s good for straight people, too). And who could doubt it? Nobody desires to be alone throughout their entire lives; I’ve never, ever met a person, gay or straight, who’d never hoped for a partner.

        So everybody will continue to believe whatever they like – and facts will continue to be facts. If people want to believe there’s “no such thing as gay marriage,” they’re perfectly within their rights. We’ll all eventually move on anyway, and will be arguing about some other issue in another 20 years or so.

        And this will all be such a yawn by then….

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