It has become a matter of orthodoxy among progressives that those who believe that marriage is properly defined as the union of one man and one woman are guilty of bigotry.
There is a problem, however: Barack Obama has assured voters that he believes marriage to be the union of one man and one woman — not two men, two women, or some combination of more than two people. As Donald Trump rather pointedly noted after the Miss U.S.A. pageant, President Obama’s position on the definition of marriage is identical to the position stated by California beauty queen Carrie Prejean.
So what do progressives think? Has the president embraced bigotry? Or has he lied to the American people about his position on what marriage is and how it should be defined?
On either side’s account, the dispute over the nature and meaning of marriage is profoundly important. Those who seek to redefine marriage to include same-sex or even polyamorous relationships believe that the historical definition of marriage as a male-female union denies people who incline toward other forms of sexual partnership equality and fundamental rights. Those who defend the historical definition — I am one of them — believe that redefining marriage will further erode public morality and weaken the already battered institution of marriage.
So if the president is lying, he is lying about something that really matters. It is no innocent fib (like Robert Gibbs’s fib that the president did not bow to the Saudi king).
So which is it? Is the president a bigot or a liar?
For what it’s worth, I think he is lying. I doubt that Barack Obama believes in the conjugal conception of marriage as a male-female union. After all, he opposed California’s Proposition 8, which restored the historical definition of marriage in California law after it had been erased by the state’s Supreme Court, and he has vowed to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act that was signed into law by President Clinton.
Moreover, I suspect that very few progressives doubt that President Obama is lying. So why do they give him a pass? Why do they let him get away with publicly embracing a position they regard as bigotry? Why is he not given the treatment they have meted out to Carrie Prejean, the Mormon Church, and others who oppose the redefinition of marriage?
My guess is that it’s because they know that redefining marriage remains a losing proposition politically. They know that the question of marriage has been put before the voters in 31 states, and in all of them — including staunchly liberal states such as Wisconsin, California, and, most recently, Maine — the people have voted to preserve marriage as the exclusive union of husband and wife. Evidently, progressives do not want to force one of their own to tell the truth and accept the political consequences.
But progressives who attack those who disagree with them about marriage as “bigots” should not be able to get away with this smear while simultaneously giving liberal politicians such as Barack Obama a pass. They need to give us an answer: If opposing the redefinition of marriage is bigotry, then what is Barack Obama, a bigot or a liar?
– Robert P. George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University.