Politics & Policy

The President Comes Out

What now?

President Obama has announced his support for same-sex marriage.

How important is this development? How does it change things politically? Culturally? How much of an election issue will it — and should it — be? National Review Online asked the experts.

WILLIAM C. DUNCAN

That the president supports same-sex marriage is not surprising. He and his administration have acted to oppose or undermine marriage laws at every opportunity. This announcement looks more like fessing up than like explaining the end result of soul searching.

It seems unlikely to move the electorate. Voters in California and North Carolina ignored the president’s opposition when approving marriage amendments in their states.

#ad#It should be a very significant election issue, though. Legal recognition of same-sex unions has created serious conflicts between religious organizations and individuals and a variety of government entities; and the president has demonstrated willingness (in the context of abortion and contraception) to ride roughshod over religious objections.

The ineluctable logic of marriage redefinition is that men and women are interchangeable, children don’t need either a mother or a father, and those who disagree are either woefully ignorant or (more likely) bigots. By coming clean about his ideological position on marriage, the president has made his attitude clear — the constitutions of 31 states and the statutes of all but six others enshrine atavistic notions about marriage inconsistent with civil-rights guarantees. Voters have seen how the administration treats people it considers discriminators and should be forewarned.

— William C. Duncan is director of the Marriage Law Foundation.

MATTHEW J. FRANCK

The president of the United States cannot run on his record — not on the economy, not on foreign policy. (How many times can he brag about killing Osama bin Laden?) He needs a shot in the arm of hopey-changey, another way to say “Yes we can!” to constituents who know that “No, you didn’t.” In the argot of political scientists, he needs this to be a prospective election, looking forward to sunlit uplands of enlightenment, not a retrospective election, looking back to the grim death of the Obama Recession. I confess the president’s “evolutionary” completion took me by surprise, since I thought he would run the gambit of openly supporting same-sex marriage only if he were either leagues ahead of Romney and it cost nothing, or feeling threatened in a race close enough to risk a lot. He must think the latter, because he is not dumb enough to think the former. So this is a closer election, in the eyes of the Chicago operatives, than I thought. (There was a lot of campaign dough on the line here too, and Chicago will now collect.)

#page#But I believe the president’s declaration — now tentatively linked to a devotion to federalism, but that will soon drop away — will prove to be a serious miscalculation. The cultural forces devoted to the preservation of marriage are seasoned campaigners, with a winning track record (see their latest victory in North Carolina). By moving the marriage issue to the front of the American political consciousness, Obama has handed Mitt Romney and the Republican party a large opportunity to ask some pointed questions: Just how many of his fellow Americans does the president consider to be bigots? What does he think marriage is? Why does it exist? Why does he want to change the fundamental meaning of a bedrock institution on which every human civilization has successfully stood? And just how many more inroads would he like to make on religious freedom?

This just became an issue that competes seriously with the economy for the American voter’s attention. Let the debate begin.

— Matthew J. Franck is director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J.

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EDWARD T. MECHMANN

The president has now announced what everyone already knew — he favors the radical redefinition of marriage.

In terms of actual policies, it’s hard to see how this announcement will make any difference. The administration has already abdicated its obligation to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act, and has even advocated for courts to overturn it — a remarkable position for a president who swore to faithfully execute the laws and the Constitution.

Regardless, this announcement should fill defenders of marriage with trepidation. The president has an enormous capacity for influencing public opinion. Will he show respect for those who defend authentic marriage, or will this lead to our being further stigmatized as “bigots”? The federal government also has frightful authority to enforce laws against “discrimination.” Interestingly, the president invoked his personal faith in making this announcement. But will he — and his army of lawyers — show respect for the liberty of churches, organizations, and individuals who disagree with him based on their own religious beliefs? The track record is not encouraging.

It is a dangerous moment when the president rejects the foundation of our society. It may be a risky future for those of us who dissent.

— Edward T. Mechmann is assistant director of the Family Life/Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese of New York.

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JENNIFER ROBACK MORSE

My personal intuitive (i.e., non-scientific, totally unprovable) beliefs are the following:

1. Obama has always favored the redefinition of marriage to remove the gender requirement. He has just decided that now is a favorable time to admit it. If I am correct, then he has been lying. This would make him a liar.

#ad#2. Why did he decide that now is a good time to admit it? The people of North Carolina just voted 61 percent to 39 percent in favor of marriage, and against ever removing the gender requirement. If he were simply counting votes in swing states, you’d think he’d consider this a good time to keep his mouth shut.

3. Therefore, he is not just counting votes. He is counting money. The Gay Lobby knows it cannot win popular votes. (This should have been obvious to them for some time.) I surmise that the Gay Lobby is putting lots of money on the table for Obama to publicly support the redefinition of marriage. The Gay Lobby knows it can get stuff done through the executive branch that it can’t get done other ways.

4. African-American voters still don’t like the removing of the gender requirement from marriage, or having the government declare that men and women are completely interchangeable as parents. What is Obama thinking about African-American voters? He may be blowing them off completely and taking their votes for granted. Or, he may be planning to use the money from the Gay Lobby to purchase advertising having nothing to do with gay issues, but designed to scare black voters away from voting Republican. Or, some combination of these.

5. With the Democratic party, it is All Identity Politics All the Time. They have no other issues. Let’s face it, they are dead in the water on economics. Their foreign policy is not credible. Identity politics is all they have left. Expect a very ugly, divisive campaign.

— Jennifer Roback Morse is founding president of the Ruth Institute.

 

JOHN O’SULLIVAN

Well, I call that service. A mere three hours after my gentle mockery of the president’s “evolving” view of same-sex marriage, it stopped evolving. He emerged as a “specific creationist” on the issue. He supports the creation of a new but fundamental social institution.

For marriage — though it has changed greatly in the last century, for better or worse, probably in the main for worse — will be a qualitatively different institution if it becomes the union of two people of the same sex whose children are obtained either through adoption or through sperm donation and refined scientific techniques.

That is no small matter.

#page#Did the president make a strong and serious case for this? Not yesterday. He may, of course, do so in the coming election campaign. Indeed, he has to do so if he is not to be reasonably accused of acting from purely electoral calculations. And because he has taken as many positions on this issue as a contortionist imitating a pretzel, he is especially open to the charges of cynicism and flip-flopping.

For what it’s worth, I don’t believe those were his motives. My guess is that he was becoming embarrassed by the fact that his “evolution” on the issue was making him a quiet laughingstock among intelligent people whose respect he values. No, I’m not saying my squib of an argument influenced him. He won’t have seen it. But that kind of mockery was becoming widespread. He is intellectually proud, and it hurt him — especially when his own vice president emerged as a Profile in Courage by comparison.

#ad#At that very moment the success of the North Carolina proposition opposing same-sex marriage on Tuesday came to his assistance. It made his statement yesterday look almost courageous, and, at least for the moment, it has insulated him against the above charges of cynical positioning. But only for the moment.

In the longer term this looks like offering the president more electoral risks than benefits. Not that he is taking a great risk with suburban middle-class voters, as some foreign correspondents are suggesting. That constituency is probably the group of voters least concerned about this issue. Taxes, jobs, spending, and the deficit create much more anxiety in their hearts. It is Evangelicals, Hispanics, black Americans, and gay Americans who are most likely to be influenced by same-sex marriage.

Again, none of those groups will be fired up over it. Faced with a choice between a Protestant who supports gay marriage and a Mormon who supports traditional marriage (and has had at most one wife), however, Evangelicals will push their nervousness about a Mormon president to the back of their soul and vote Republican with a clear conscience. Hispanic and black Americans, who are more socially conservative than other Americans, will be harder for the Democrats to arouse and drive to the voting booth. And gay and lesbian Americans — or, rather, those for whom same-sex marriage is a priority — will be much more willing to vote for Obama and to donate money to his campaign. But they are few in number electorally and the Obama campaign already has more cash than it knows how to spend usefully.

No one issue will decide the forthcoming election, and if such a decisive issue were to exist, it would not be same-sex marriage. But if in the end President Obama loses in November, yesterday’s decision will have been a significant contributory factor.

— John O’Sullivan is an editor-at-large of National Review.

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Michael Pakaluk

Obama’s remarks yesterday were a brilliant example of political rhetoric calculated to appeal to an emotionally mushy middle.

A scenario that has played itself out thousands of times across the country is the following. A person who unreflectively (that is, on the basis of “religion” or “tradition”) has been opposed to same-sex relationships is confronted by a friend who declares himself to be gay. Although marriage invokes very powerful traditions and religious beliefs for this person, his views begin to evolve, perhaps over a period of years, until — seeing his friend in what seems to be a committed monogamous relationship — he concludes that for him personally it is important to go ahead and affirm that he thinks same-sex couples should be able to get married.

#ad#Obama simply transposed the italicized words to the realm of the political. By appealing to sentimentalism in this way and avoiding questions of the common good, Obama can turn criticisms into strengths. To evolve is to move to a position better than that of someone who hasn’t evolved. That his new position is “personal” shows his sensitivity. His long hesitation is only a measure of the weight he gives to tradition. Romney will find it difficult to affirm a strong commitment to traditional marriage, as he should, while appearing equally sensitive and troubled, as (given the character of the electorate) he must.

— Michael Pakaluk is chairman of the philosophy department at Ave Maria University.

MITCH PEARLSTEIN

First reactions to President Obama’s newly announced approval of same-sex marriage bespeak shaky mirror imaging. While folks on the right are routinely critical of its very core, they’re rejoicing in what they see as its politics. Folks on the left, meanwhile, while routinely celebrating the very heart of the president’s change of outward heart, don’t seem to be nearly as enthused (or even verbal) about its politics, fearful as many surely are that it will prove the opposite of helpful in November.

The latter dynamic may well manifest itself, and if I had to guess, it probably will — albeit not as consequentially as many Republicans and conservatives assume. A main reason is the great if generally unacknowledged rhetorical advantages proponents of same-sex marriage have over opponents.

Arguing compellingly against same-sex marriage is a complex and nuanced business, drawing on history, human nature, cultural coherence, and the well-being of children — and this last topic must be pursued without the aid of adequately persuasive research showing that growing up with same-sex parents is damaging. As for straightforward religious claims regarding the wrongness of same-sex marriage, by definition they are useless and worse on tens of millions.

Now take two things proponents can say in making their case.

#page#“Hey, fair is fair.”

And when talking with married heterosexual couples: “Tell me again how gays and lesbians getting married will hurt your marriages?”

Unless politicians and others on the right come up with better, simpler answers to fundamental, one-sentence arguments such as these, they’re likely to be electorally disappointed, at least to a degree.  

— Mitch Pearlstein is founder and president of Center of the American Experiment in Minneapolis.

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DENNIS PRAGER

Four things to keep in mind:

1. Nothing as radical as redefining marriage to include members of the same sex has ever been publicly supported by a president of the United States.

2. This reaffirms my conviction that Mr. Obama is by far the most left-wing person to ever hold the office of the American presidency. He believes in an ever-expanding state, irrespective of debt; he believes in using presidential power through unaccountable “czars” to carry out his wishes; he does not believe in American exceptionalism (the left-wing FDR did); and he supports same-sex marriage, the most radical social experiment in modern history.

3. Politically, the president’s announcement may indeed further energize the Left generally and the gay Left specifically. But since neither had anywhere else to go, the political gain on the left will probably be overwhelmed by political gain on the right. For millions of Evangelicals and other conservative Christians who had misgivings about voting for a Mormon, the president’s support for redefining marriage in America will be a wake-up call that may have no peer.

4. The “inevitability” of same-sex marriage is activist propaganda — but only if Americans learn how to make the case for retaining the man-woman definition. That is a job I, among others, have taken on.

— Dennis Prager is the author of Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph (HarperCollins), published on April 24. He is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host.

RALPH REED

Four years ago, Barack Obama promised not to raise taxes on those making less than $250,000, pledged to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term, vowed to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay within one year of his inaugural — and made clear his support for traditional marriage. All those promises are now broken.

#page#At a time of high unemployment and severe economic distress, President Obama chose the week he formally launched his reelection campaign to flip-flop on same-sex marriage. Combined with the unplanned announcement by gaffe-prone Joe Biden on Meet the Press on Sunday, a campaign once known for its message discipline appears to be making things up as it goes along.

Nor can the president’s pronouncement be seen as an expression of his personal views. This is a statement of administration policy. Obama’s opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act (the logic behind this opposition would force Utah, Florida, and Ohio to recognize same-sex unions made legal in Boston and Manhattan), his applauding of the legalization of same-sex marriage by the New York legislature, and the religious-charity mandate under Obamacare all reveal a president who is tone-deaf and out of touch with the time-honored values of millions of Americans.

#ad#This is an unanticipated gift to the Romney campaign. It is an issue that is certain to alienate Obama from voters who do not feel he shares their values, and is certain to fuel a record turnout of voters of faith to the polls this November.

— Ralph Reed is chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition

ALAN SEARS

President Obama’s announcement regarding his position on marriage confirms that his administration doesn’t understand the public purpose of marriage. Marriage — the lifelong, faithful union of one man and one woman — is the building block of a thriving society. It’s not something that politicians should attempt to redefine for political purposes.

The president has spoken eloquently about how fatherless homes often hurt children and society. His new statement is a tragic contradiction that promotes the creation of even more fatherless and motherless homes.

His announcement would be more important if everyone didn’t already know the president’s real position, which he has held since at least as far back as 1996. You can say that President Obama was “for redefining marriage before he was for it.” Yesterday’s announcement was a mere formality. The war on marriage has been a centerpiece of this administration’s agenda since the beginning.

Until the last few years, humanity was united on the purpose and the goodness of marriage. That is still largely the case, but unfortunately, well-funded cultural and political elites, including the ones attacking marriage today, are attempting to monopolize the cultural conversation. It’s a conversation in which we who recognize the truth about marriage and want to protect marriage — as the people of North Carolina just did — will continue to engage.

Alan Sears is president and CEO of the Alliance Defense Fund, a legal alliance employing a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.

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GLENN T. STANTON

The president’s announcement is not surprising, but disappointing. It is big news because he has the largest bully pulpit in the world. But is it wise to use that pulpit to make a statement on such a divisive and hot-button issue on which the president is in direct conflict with the will of the American people? North Carolina just became the 32nd state — out of 32 that have voted in referenda — to protect marriage from radical redefinition. The voices of citizens from conservative, moderate, and liberal states have all been clear and consistent: Marriage is an important social institution that joins a man and woman. A complete human union.

#ad#The “equality/justice” talking point is a straw man that has unfortunately proved very persuasive among some. Who wants to oppose equality? But the African-American community is not taken in. They are one of the largest and strongest blocs opposing same-sex marriage. They’ve seen the deep collateral damage that family re-engineering has done in their community. They know from painful experience that marriage is not just a personal relationship with no impact on the community. 

It is not right or just to advance intentionally motherless or fatherless families, but that is exactly what same-sex marriage does to children. That is precisely what same-sex marriage does, and solely to satisfy the desire of a small population of adults. This is not a good call from our president.

— Glenn T. Stanton is the director of family-formation studies at Focus on the Family and the author of Secure Daughters, Confident Sons (Multnomah, 2011) and The Ring Makes All the Difference (Moody, 2011).

 

ED WHELAN

At one level, President Obama’s newly stated position on same-sex marriage is a trivial change. No one “in the know” ever believed that Obama really opposed same-sex marriage. His campaign position in 2008 was just a politically convenient pretense to bamboozle voters concerned about the terrible wreckage of a collapsed marriage culture.

Obama now says that he “personally” supports same-sex marriage, but (according to ABC News’ account of statements not yet made public) “he still supports the concept of states deciding the issue on their own.” If taken seriously, that latter proposition would necessarily imply Obama’s belief that the states’ traditional-marriage laws are constitutionally permissible. Alas, Obama cannot be taken seriously, for (as I have testified) the badly confused grounds on which he decided last year that his administration would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act would compel him to conclude that traditional-marriage laws are unconstitutional.

At another level, though, Obama’s newfound position is ominous for the American future. The American experiment in self-government depends on a vibrant marriage culture that transforms the little barbarians who emerge from the womb into responsible and virtuous citizens. The traditional male-female nature of marriage reflects the elementary biological reality that only heterosexual intercourse naturally generates children. The institution of marriage exists to maximize the prospect that children will be born and raised in stable and enduring families by the fathers and mothers responsible for their existence.

Redefining marriage to include same-sex couples would permanently reorient the institution of marriage away from this central mission. Indeed, proponents of same-sex marriage routinely dismiss as irrational the inherent link between marriage and responsible procreation and child-rearing.

Our marriage culture is on the verge of collapse — a collapse for which heterosexuals are largely responsible — with all the social pathologies associated with rising out-of-wedlock births and single-parent families. On marriage as on so many other matters, President Obama has failed to recognize what is needed to sustain the American experiment.

— Ed Whelan is president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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