Disgrace – Obama’s position on marriage equality

Richard Just (Nation – “Disgrace: Obama’s increasingly absurd gay marriage position“) draws some interesting parallels between Woodrow Wilson’s weak stand on women’s suffrage and Obama’s weak position on same-sex marriage equality:

In the fall of 1912, as his campaign for president entered its final stage, Woodrow Wilson was speaking in Brooklyn when he was asked for his opinion on women’s suffrage. The issue was very much in the political ether, but Wilson had declined to take a stand on it. According to John Milton Cooper’s excellent biography of the twenty-eighth president, he responded by insisting that it was “not a question that is dealt with by the national government at all.” The woman who had asked the question was apparently displeased by this blatant dodge. “I am speaking to you as an American, Mr. Wilson,” she retorted.

I am speaking to you as an American: It was a wonderful rebuke, one that anticipated the rhetoric of Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders who would not rail against America but instead demand to be fully part of it. Wilson, however, was unmoved. And his slippery treatment of women’s suffrage–like his slippery approach on matters of race–did not end once he was in the White House. Running for reelection four years later, he was still playing the same exasperating game. That year, the Democrats did not endorse a constitutional amendment providing for women’s suffrage but, instead, called on the states to extend voting rights to women. Such a half-measure looks cowardly in retrospect, of course; but it also looked cowardly at the time. In November 1916, The New Republic excoriated Wilson for his weak stand on the issue. During his reelection campaign, TNR wrote, Wilson had told a group of suffragists that “[h]e was with them,” even as “he confessed to a ‘little impatience’ as to their anxiety about method.” From this, the magazine concluded that the president had “at best a vague, benign feeling about [the issue], and no conviction whatever that woman suffrage was creating a national situation which called for thorough sincerity, nerve and will.”

An evasive stance on a controversial civil rights issue from a liberal president; an insistence that the issue is primarily local, rather than national, in character; a complete failure of sincerity, nerve, and will: If these things sound familiar in 2010, it is because Barack Obama is taking exactly the same approach on gay marriage.

He goes on to discuss how Obama’s strange position – that he’s not in favor of same-sex marriage, but that constitutions shouldn’t outlaw it – sends a message not just to America about the issue but sets a tone on a world stage that is already far ahead of us.

There are also some really interesting discussion going on in the comments – dbgoroff:

As you know, Congress legislates in the area of marriage all the time. It has passed more than 1100 laws that tie benefits, at least in part, to the status of being married. It then passed DOMA, stating that for purposes of all of these federal laws,same-sex marriages will not be treated as marriages. This means that a same-sex couple married in Iowa still cannot be a “family” for purposes of the federal Family Medical Leave Act, ensure that insurance benefits for their spouse are transportable under COBRA, or partake of social security survivor benefits if their husband or wife dies, to name a few. DOMA rests on the illogical premise that the institution of marriage somehow needs to be “defended” from legal gay relationships. Obama’s current position–that he is against the right of same-sex couples to marry because of the religious association evoked by the word “marriage”–plays into that.

Also, while nominally opposing DOMA, Obama defends its constitutionality. His position is crappy constitutional law, as Perry v. Schwarzenegger and Judge Tauro’s decisions in the Massachusetts DOMA cases show. Congress, just like states, cannot legislate away the benefits of a fundamental constitutional right from a particular group. You argue that Presidents should only very sparingly not defend laws that they deem unconstitutional. First, this simply does not comport with the oath of office. Enforcing unconstitutional laws does not defend the Constitution. Second, it is not how administrations have behaved, including Obama’s, on other subjects. Third, Obama’s Department of Justice did not just say in its DOMA briefs “We have our issues with DOMA but are defending it because that is our job.” They raised every slur in the book about gay couples and compared same-sex marriages to incestuous relationships, among other treats.

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