It’s hard to look at President Barack Obama’s announcement Wednesday in support of same-sex marriage as anything more than anticlimactic symbolism, welcome that it is.
It’s not likely to be much of a political game-changer in the presidential election. Those strongly opposed to expansion of gay rights probably weren’t inclined to vote for Obama in November anyway after he overturned restrictions on gays in the military and announced that his administration would not defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court.
Because of Obama’s longtime support for gay rights, supporters of same-sex marriage were probably already inclined to vote for him even though his public position on the issue was only “evolving.” His reluctance to come out in favor of same-sex marriage had widely been interpreted as being politically motivated: He hoped not to alienate the independent voters so crucial to his re-election. His announcement this week certainly was prompted by Vice President Joe Biden’s earlier comments of support for same-sex marriage.
This announcement may win Obama more donations from gay rights advocates, but probably not significantly more votes in the battleground states he needs for re-election. Voters are more likely to base their votes on such pocketbook issues as job creation, taxes and government spending.
But for supporters of same-sex marriage, Obama’s public embrace of their cause is tremendously galvanizing – he is the first president to voice his support – and welcome news after North Carolina voters soundly rejected same-sex marriage on Tuesday.
Same-sex marriage likely will be the law of the land someday, whether it happens incrementally, state by state, or through a U.S. Supreme Court decision. Surveys show that young people are much more accepting of gays and lesbians and supportive of marriage equality; ultimately they will decide the issue if the court doesn’t beat them to it.
While Obama’s announcement is a significant step forward in the journey toward marriage equality, an equally important one could take place right here in Washington state.
Supporters of Referendum 74, who seek to overturn the same-sex marriage law approved by the Legislature, are halfway to gathering the signatures they need by June 6 to put the measure on the November ballot. If R-74 is approved and voters uphold the law, it would be the first time in U.S. history that same-sex marriage was approved by state voters. In six other states, legalization has occurred through the legislative or judicial process.
This state’s voters rejected an effort to get rid of “everything but marriage” civil unions in 2009. They should advance marriage equality again by approving Referendum 74 if it makes it to the ballot.