What I believe is that marriage is between a man and a woman. But what I also believe is that we have an obligation to make sure that gays and lesbians have the rights of citizenship that afford them visitations to hospitals, that allow them to transfer property between partners, to make certain that they’re not discriminated against on the job.
OK, confession time: I didn’t create those opening sentences. Then-U.S. Senate candidate Barack Obama did, in 2004.
Obama offered a different, “evolved” belief Wednesday, saying he thinks same-sex couples should be able to marry. He had it right the first time.
Well, not the first first time. Before tackling the issue, let’s review Obama’s “evolution.” In 1996, while running for the Illinois Senate, Obama noted on a questionnaire that he “favor[ed] legalizing same-sex marriages.” By 2004, he’d flipped on that position.
Last week — after an endorsement of gay marriage by Vice President Joe Biden and a report that wealthy gay donors had threatened to stop giving to his campaign, but before high-profile fundraisers with gay-rights supporters — Obama flopped.
He attributed his change of heart to experiences with gay friends and staffers; unnamed aides told the New York Times the president’s “brand” couldn’t withstand any more “hedging” on the issue.
But Obama did not propose a policy change, and he insisted he won’t campaign on the issue. Rather, he endorsed letting each state decide. That would be a tenable position had his administration not stopped defending against legal challenges to the law, the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act, that enables states to do just that.
This is not Obama the principled, but the cynical. And that’s a shame. Obama’s 2004 stance might pass bipartisan muster.
You’ve heard religious arguments against gay marriage. I won’t repeat them. Here’s a secular argument.
In the same 2004 interview, Obama said “we have a set of traditions” for marriage that “need to be preserved.” These social traditions have been recognized widely, for centuries, as the building blocks of a self-perpetuating civilization. It is not for government to change a social tradition any more than to ban social traditions that are harmless.
Nor should government change broadly accepted definitions of words, which is what proponents of same-sex “marriage” want. This time it’s the meaning of “marriage”; when auto makers were bailed out, it was “bondholder.”
If government legally redefines marriage now, on what grounds will social entities defend the right to their own definition? Obama’s personal pledge to protect religious liberty regarding marriage won’t hold up in court. It’s cold comfort anyway, given his attempt earlier this year to violate Catholics’ freedom of conscience concerning contraception.
At the same time, legal rights created by government, such as those governing hospital visitation, probably shouldn’t be subject to social tradition. Gay couples’ inability to fulfill the traditional definition of “marriage” should not render them unequal under the law.
Opinion polls depict gay marriage as more popular than actual referendums find: The cause is 1-for-35 in state votes, and the one win (in Arizona) was later overturned in a subsequent referendum. This may reflect a popular preference for granting gay couples equal legal rights while upholding marriage’s traditional definition, perhaps through a civil union.
The Obama of 2004 would have worked toward that goal. Too bad this vintage won’t.
– By Kyle Wingfield