By Sandee Sandhu
“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,” said President Barack Obama.
Wednesday, May 9 marked a historic day in America when Obama became the first president to publicly “come out” in support of marriage equality. This caused a national stir, especially in light of the ban on same-sex marriage in North Carolina the night before.
Opinions were split. Was this a political strategy? Was this a forced announcement backing up Vice President Joe Biden’s premature comments of same-sex marriage support? What change was this going to elicit?
On the national level, reactions varied. Critics claimed that the move was a political gamble, but seeing as Obama had no real votes to gain, since polls show that most LGBTQ citizens vote Democrat and the African-American community is conflicted on Obama’s stance on the issue. Republican politicians quickly commented or remained silent and diverted back to economic issues.
Here on campus, involved discussions have been taking place. On Wednesday, May 16, Professor Alvaro Jarrin led a discussion in the Peter Irving Wold Center atrium during common lunch. Jarrin expressed surprise that the gay rights movement is quickly making more progress than he expected, largely due to global media.
“Same-sex marriage is not a Republican or Democratic issue anymore, which makes me very happy. It’s not leftist over rightist, but rather a realization that we’re all human beings,” Jarrin said. Jarrin projects that even if Romney wins, it is unlikely that there will be any transgression on gay marriage issues but instead a hold, whereas Obama may try to write some legislation with Congress’ support.
Even the architects of North Carolina’s Amendment One admitted they were aware that they were winning a battle, but perhaps losing the larger war because gay rights seem inevitable.
Polls show that marriage equality is now being understood as a struggle against discrimination, much like the Civil Rights Movement.
While it is important that Obama acknowledged the issue of gay rights, Jarrin noted that, “Obama isn’t breaking a trend. He’s following America’s higher approval ratings for gay marriage.”
Following suit, Professor Jeffrey Corbin views same-sex marriage as an issue that, over time, will seem like a non-issue.
Corbin acknowledged, “Your generation seems already to be much more accepting. More young people are okay with it. And you guys are becoming a larger and larger portion of the voting public.”
Initially, the news came as a complete surprise to Corbin because though he was aware of Biden’s comments that past weekend, he hadn’t expected Obama to back them up until after the election, as it posed political disadvantages. Corbin continued, “There have been setbacks such as North Carolina, but it means something when the President of the United States publicly supports same sex marriage.”
Some were a bit skeptical about the change that would occur. Ben Berger ‘15 is one of the more dubious, saying, “It doesn’t mean anything until [Obama] actually passes something. Get some legislation through.” Noting the various domains of partnership such as civil unions and domestic partnership, Kaelan Hasson ‘15 commented, “If marriage wasn’t a political entity, then the issue of same-sex marriage wouldn’t be a problem at all.” Professor David Ogawa has a unique perspective. “Gay marriage is going to remain an issue for the campaign. My fear is that gay marriage will become just totally normal. The state of being married will be seen as the proper, respectful position that everyone must be in. Bisexuals, transgenders and anyone not interested in being married or having children becomes marginalized, and the margin of a minority becomes even smaller,” he said.
If same-sex marriage is eventually normalized, there is a worry that the momentum of other LGBTQ issues will slow. As Ogawa sums up, “Gay marriage has the potential to become major and those who are marginalized will become even more marginalized.”
All in all, opinions will certainly differ. The fact remains that Obama is America’s first ever to formally “out” presidential ally, and that speaks volumes about the change occurring in the country.