Obama Is Not in Favor of Marriage Equality

by: Matt Stoller

Thu Dec 18, 2008 at 14:23

It's worth noting, in this Rick Warren fiasco, that there isn't actually that much daylight between Warren and Obama on marriage equality.  There is some, of course, since Obama was against Proposition 8 and Warren was for it.  And I'm sure Obama is a whole lot more gay-friendly in general than Warren, and that will have important policy implications on things like hate crimes and discrimination in the workplace.  However, on the basic principle of marriage, Obama and Warren agree that marriage is for a man and a woman, which the Yes on Prop 8 side did not hesitate to point out through a multi-million dollar campaign.

And yet, here's Obama on the Warren debacle.

"Let me start by talking about my own views.  It is no secret that I am a fierce advocate for equality for gay and lesbian Americans.  It is something that I have been consistent on and something that I intend to continue to be consistent on during my Presidency.  What I have also said is that it is important for Americans to come together even though we may disagree on certain social issues."

This just isn't truthful, or rather, it's exactly how Bush would justify a policy on pollution, by talking about how strongly he believes in the public's right to clean air.  Obama might push for equal rights for gays in some instances, yet think that it is politically unwise to push for it in others.  Or he may simply not believe that gay people should be able to get married.  But he's not 'consistent' on fierce advocacy for equality, he's consistent in being a politician that won't support marriage equality but will support other advances in equal rights initiatives.

Chris and I were pretty consistent in pointing out that you should believe what Obama says, and not try to pretend that he's lying to the public so that he can get progressive policies passed.  Obama's pretty upfront about what he believes.  He tends to do politician-y things like use liberal rhetoric to justify limiting rights for gay people and disembodying the left so he can punch us in the face every once in awhile.  But that doesn't actually mean that he's going to go our way on policy.  He never was in favor of marriage equality, he's been consistent on that point.  If you were surprised that he picked Warren or think he's playing three dimensional chess, you might consider opening your mind up to the possibility that he's just doing what he believes is the right thing to do.  And that might just mean leaving gays out of his big tent (though I'd point out that Warren has a record that goes far beyond attacking homosexuals, and that marriage equality is not a 'gay' issue but a human rights issue).

Matt Stoller :: Obama Is Not in Favor of Marriage Equality

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Obama supports civil unions (4.00 / 2)

He supports repealing DOMA (4.00 / 3)
But I'm sure that doesn't matter either.

I don't recall Obama taking any ACTIONS to limit gay rights. He opposed Prop. 8, he's in favor of full civil unions, he wants to repeal DOMA and end "Don't Ask Don't Tell", and yet because he follows the scaredy-cat DC villager line of "Marriage is between a man and a woman" then suddenly he's not going to do anything except maybe sign another hate crimes bill.

I don't like Obama's antiquated position on this issue either, and hope he changes his mind about it. But more important, I hope his actions continue to be to the left of his rhetoric.

[ Parent ]
Obama frames his objection to gay marriage... (4.00 / 3)
... in one of the worst possible ways (from the Saddleback "debate"):

"I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman [big applause], now for me as a Christian, it's also a sacred union, now God's in the mix [applause].


This argument means it's against the will of the Deity ever to progress on this issue. Even if a position like Edwards's was contorted, it allowed for eventual progress toward marriage equality, which would never be appropriate if we allow that God Almighty opposes such "unsacred" unions.

[ Parent ]
While I agree marriage for all is a human rights issue (4.00 / 2)
federally recognized civil unions that confer the same benefits as marriage - Social Security, tax-free domestic partner benefits, right to refuse to testify in court, etc. - are nothing to sneeze at.  

[ Parent ]
Separate but equal wasn't good enough (4.00 / 1)
in the fifties, what makes it good enough now? The whole point of "civil unions" language is to preserve the illusion that straight people are inherently better than gay people. We aren't.

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
"Separate but equal" isn't analogous to gay marriage (4.00 / 1)
Creating a separate legal distinction that confers to gays equal civil benefits across the board as heterosexual couples wouldn't mean that gays drink from separate fountains, attend different schools, find themselves redlined by the credit industry, are cordoned off into ghettos by legal sanction, etc.

While the largely ineffectual Brown v. Board of Ed. decision relied on psychological theories of social stigmaticization, it was only to avoid making the far more radical and far reaching argument from economic benefits.  

I tend to think that "marriage" as it's understood now will lose much of its sacrosanct character once people enjoy the same benefits regardless of the name under which they're understood.  

[ Parent ]
"Separate but equal" (0.00 / 0)
is exactly what we're talking about. One set of structures for one group of people, one for another.

In theory, blacks had schools, teachers, books, just like whites. What were they complaining about?

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
Extend your metaphor to practical policies and institutions, (4.00 / 1)
and the separate but equal metaphor loses its force.  

Blacks went to inferior schools that received inferior funds; gays will receive social security benefits from their deceased partners, just like straight people.  

[ Parent ]
I kind of already addressed this below, (4.00 / 1)
but the basic point is, if they are to be equal, where is the need for separation?

If gay and lesbian couples deserve the same legal rights as straight couples, why don't they deserve the word "marriage?"

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
If the separation is merely linguistic (4.00 / 1)
than it's one I'll deal with.  As I said, I think a system that creates the same benefits for all will lay waste to a linguistic distinction that depends on the benefits in question for its normative power.  

Believe me, I could use the relief from paying taxes on my domestic partner benefits (another way in which the gay rights movement has improved life for straight people) and don't see it as trivial.  


[ Parent ]
To make the point clearer, (4.00 / 1)
arguing for "civil unions" to carry the same rights as legal marriage (for remember, marriage is a LEGAL relationship that may or may not be consecrated by a religious organization depending upon the preferences of the individuals involved) is basically like saying, back in the fifties, "the colored schools should have the same textbooks as the white schools, not just the crappy old ones the white schools have thrown out."

It may feel good as a compromise position, but it's not justice.

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
I agree that it's not justice, (4.00 / 1)
but it's more than just "feel[ing] good."  This is a compromise that allows for the SAME social benefits, not a "separate but equal" entitlement to social security benefits, but the SAME benefits.  

That gays fight for civil unions so as to enjoy the SAME social benefits is a critical difference between it and "separate but equal" which was used to legally enshrine radically DIFFERENT social services under the guise of equality.  

[ Parent ]
But isn't that what Brown vs. the Board of Education (0.00 / 0)
eventually decided, that separate can never be equal?

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
And segregation continues (0.00 / 0)
despite Brown and the "deliberate speed" with which it was[n't] implemented.  

The Brown decision says that the effects of racism weren't corrosive for their economic and objective effects, but for the psychological trauma that individuals feel as subjects.  This logic dovetails quite neatly with the Moynihan/William Julius Wilson diagnosis of poverty as a problem not of society and economic structures, but individuals and behavioral patterns.

Check out Daryl Scott's brilliant Contempt and Pity for more of the ideas that I've stolen from him (and he has stolen from others).

[ Parent ]
Yes (0.00 / 0)
but not legally, and not in public facilities. That's my point. The government does not condone discrimination based on race anymore. There is no reason to condone it based on sexual orientation, either.

The only argument I've ever heard against legalizing gay marriage is the it will upset the bigots, but that was the same argument used to justify Jim Crow. I think the bigots need to get over it.

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
I disagree with the first paragraph (0.00 / 0)
and enthusiastically endorse the second.  

However, I'm willing to suffer the continued "stigmaticization" of concrete legal and economic benefits until the ground is prepared for the ultimate undoing of all legal distinctions based on sexuality.  

[ Parent ]
And just so you know (0.00 / 0)
it's far more enjoyable to discuss this serious problem with someone thoughtful, intelligent and given to data driven disagreement like you rather than the kool-aid tinged "debate" over gay rights at tpm.  Take a look at it if you've got the stomach for it.

[ Parent ]
Thanks. (0.00 / 0)
Also, I've been meaning to tell you, I love your handle. Is it a reference to the IWW?

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
Yes, it is (0.00 / 0)
My great-grandfather was a member in Akron, OH.  

[ Parent ]
I am so jealous! (0.00 / 0)
When I learned about the wobblies I wanted to live in those times.

Now I think maybe we do.

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
yea (0.00 / 0)
Is there a real monetary and legal difference? or is it just for names sake to call it marriage? I am not sure to be honest, but If it is juts a name issue (assuming) I would oppose it since it is not necessary at all and will get lots of people upset(at least for now).

[ Parent ]
Yes (4.00 / 4)
Unfortunately, there really is a legal difference.  For example, some employers will cover spouses but not partners.  Even if the state treats the two the same, there is no guarantee anyone else does.

[ Parent ]
So (0.00 / 0)
In a civil union they will not be considered spouses? cant laws can be made to changed to require that legality? (ie people can sue etc)

[ Parent ]
Sure (4.00 / 1)
But by the time you are done, it's easier just to call it a marriage.

I still believe that civil unions are a reasonable compromise; you take what you can get.  But the end game will always be marriage.

I used to say I was for civil unions for liberal reasons (I believe in equal protection under the law) but for gay marriage for conservative reasons (I believe in the stability and happiness marriage and family provide).  Over time I've realized marriage is needed even for equal protection, but I still believe in gay marriage primarily for the "conservative" reasons.

There was a time the gay community itself was against gay marriage.  They didn't think there was any reason they should subject themselves to straight culture and straight definitions of what it means to be in a good, healthy relationship.  If conservatives were actually rational, they would be pushing for gay marriage more than us.  It never works that way, though, does it?

[ Parent ]
I believe in the stability and happiness marriage and family provide (4.00 / 1)

has anyone ever really done a survey about how much happiness comes from going through the marriage ceremony?

im a cynic, i believe in marriage for the benefits. that benefits are tied to marriage is unfair to non-married people. I understand it as a means of contractual convenience in a historical sense, but we're out of the middle ages. we can have any of the marriage contract terms without marriage; id like to see that. but I guess i'd have to live another 500 years probably. bummer.

~* the * Will * to go on *~

[ Parent ]
Conservative (4.00 / 1)
So you agree, then, that this would be a "conservative" reason to be in favor of gay marriage?  

But yes, I have read studies that point to marriage being important to happiness.  A random google search produces this.

Ultimately, it isn't marriage that is important, imho, it is family and commitment, which is obviously related but not the same thing.  Marriage is just a word that encompasses much of that.  The "conservative" symbolism of gay marriage is to encourage gays and lesbians into close, committed relationships.

I actually agree that the government should get out of the marriage business altogether.  

[ Parent ]
this is what makes this such a circle jerk (4.00 / 1)
Obama is basically spouting nonsense when he says he's a "fierce advocate for equality for gay and lesbian Americans"

these folks are fierce advocates. Obama is milktoast. Contrary to what Matt said, and in agreement with what Matt said later, Obama will use progressive like rhetoric for cover, its his actions that really count, only half the time is he saying what he will really do.

~* the * Will * to go on *~

[ Parent ]
There are 1,054 (4.00 / 1)
federal rights involved.

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
And hundreds (0.00 / 0)
in each of many states as well, including New York.

[ Parent ]
Matt Wrote: (4.00 / 1)
he's [Obama] just doing what he believes is the right thing to do.  And that might just mean leaving gays out of his big tent

Which Obama just did with his Labor Secretary appointment:

AP Reports Rep. Hilda Solis to be Labor Secretary.

Mary Beth Maxwell was an early favorite and reportedly pushed hard by David Bonior who has very strong labor credentials.  

many big labor groups (0.00 / 0)
didn't think Maxwell had the experience or heavyweight status to be a great cabinet secretary. I disagree, but that's what I heard. It's ridiculous to think she wasn't picked because she was gay.

I like Solis, but I think she is about as much of a lightweight as Maxwell would have been. Solis vs. Geithner and Summers, who's gonna win that one?

[ Parent ]
You Obviously Don't Know Hilda Solis (4.00 / 7)
Aside from which your formulation "Solis vs. Geithner and Summers, who's gonna win that one?" is utterly misleading.  Labor Secretaries don't set economic policy.  They just don't.  I think even Robert Reich may be close to figuring that one out by now.

But what they can do is not chopped liver, by any means.  And Solis is a very serious champion of the people she represents, with a lot of respect among community and environmental justice activists as well as labor.  Had she stayed in the House, she could well have become the first Latina Speaker.  (She was prepping for a run to take Bercerra's leadership slot if he'd beceom Trade Rep.) As is, I wouldn't be surprised to see her run for California governor or Senator somewhere down the line. She is not a lightweight by any stretch of the imagination.  

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Out of the tent (4.00 / 10)
While I agree with you on gay marriage and Rick Warren, I don't get the "out of the tent" thing.  The Benediction is by a pro-gay marriage reverend. Gays are participating in publicly in other portions of the inauguration, like the parade.

The problem isn't that gays are being left out of the tent, the problem is gay bashers are being let into the tent.  There's a difference and we should be honest about it.

Its just odd. . . (4.00 / 2)
There are guys to pick fights for.  There are dear supporters and friends that you back no matter what.  Warren, though, is the guy who fucked Obama at the value voter's thing by no putting McCain in the "Cone of Silence."  I don't get this at all.

His loyalty to Warren (4.00 / 3)
is like his loyalty to Lieberman -- disturbing. Especially when contrasted to his "get thee behind me satan" approach to Reverend Wright.

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
eh, he gave wright a second chance... it was the press club appearance (4.00 / 1)
that did it, and he certainly didn't seem happy about cutting ties.  not to justify the actions re: warren or lieberman.  

[ Parent ]
I saw Rev Wright at the NPC on C-SPAN (0.00 / 0)
That was one hell of a performance.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
...huh. (4.00 / 2)
There is some, of course, since Obama was against Proposition 8 and Warren was for it.  And I'm sure Obama is a whole lot more gay-friendly in general than Warren, and that will have important policy implications on things like hate crimes and discrimination in the workplace.  However, on the basic principle of marriage, Obama and Warren agree that marriage is for a man and a woman

So, you list here the entire spectrum of questions one could use to fix someone's position on gay marriage: Do you support bans on gay marriage? Do you support policy in support of gay marriages, which as you mention includes employment but would also include, do you support federal recognition of gay marriage? And, do you support marriage benefits for gay couples? Do you support the basic existence of homosexuality? And you acknowledge Obama is on the right side on all of these things you bring up.

But then you take one question-- I.E., Barack Obama will not come out in public and say the words "I support gay marriage"-- and use this single data point to conclude there "isn't actually that much daylight between Warren and Obama on marriage equality".

Chris, Matt, this is why you have no allies: Because you throw them all away.

In the meanwhile, the contradictions in this piece are actually kind of funny:

This [Obama's statement] just isn't truthful...

Chris and I were pretty consistent in pointing out that you should believe what Obama says, and not try to pretend that he's lying to the public

In other words: When Obama makes statements inconsistent with LGBT equality, he's telling the truth. Listen to that. When Obama makes statements consistent with LGBT equality, he's lying. Don't listen to that.

Allies (4.00 / 1)
Chris and Matt don't seem to get the ally thing.  Unfortunately, they fall into the with us or against us thinking more than they should.

I'm not saying they really think that way, but it comes out that way very often in their writing.  More than once we've been told Obama is not our ally, which is clearly incorrect most of the time.  Russia was our ally in WWII; Obama is much more of an ally than that.  But he isn't us and he isn't an ally on every issue.  (At times, I'm not sure I'm one of us anymore, but I digress...)  The difference is pretty obvious but gets lost in the conversation too often.

[ Parent ]
"Marriage equality" (0.00 / 0)
is a synonym for "gay marriage." In general, those who support it use the first formula, while those who oppose it use the second.

If Obama does not support gay marriage then he does not support marriage equality, because they are the same thing. Therefore what Matt is saying is true, there is no daylight between Warren and Obama on marriage equality.

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
It should be remembered that Warren is also virulently anti-choice, (4.00 / 1)
having compared abortion to the Holcoaust. It would be difficult argue that Obama really IS anti-choice, which is what you would probaly have to do to properly make the point that the Warren pick is without cynicism.  

Cynicism (0.00 / 0)
Or you can take Obama at his word that he and Warren disagree on lots of stuff.  That isn't cynical, even if it is misguided.

Warren is also "progressive" on some issues like the environment and poverty.  That doesn't make him a good and decent person, but it does show how he can be an ally on certain issues.  (And if all he cared about were the social issues, as others have claimed about "those guys", he never would have rocked the boat on these other issues.)

[ Parent ]
The Problem Is Obama's OWN Ambiguity (4.00 / 8)
Obama's formulation is deliberately ambiguous, designed to be interpreted differently by different people.  It isn't as if he is clearly anti-gay.  The whole point is to speak in different codes to different people, and then wink properly so they all think you're really with them.

This is not my idea of leadership or change.  It's my idea of very clever politics as usual.  But politics as usual can always be gamed into producing more than it intends to, and the sooner one recognizes what's going on, the better one's chances of making that happen.

One thing is clear, however: Obama may be an ally of the GLBT community on some things, and not on others.  But he is not a friend of the GLBT community, and this gesture was a very clear reminder of that.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

imho (4.00 / 1)
i think you've aptly described Obama's general political character. its not the worst thing in the world, certainly cheney is worse. but to me this is what his more faithful supporters I hope will realize, because this kind of gaming naturally requires more vigorous watch dogging and I feel in general left leaning folk more than less have been satisfied to have a victory in name, vs in substance.

~* the * Will * to go on *~

[ Parent ]
Obama is a Fierce Advocate (0.00 / 0)
For himself. Have you Obama-lovers ever seen something that he passionately advocated that he followed through and voted for? He was sooooo against the war and criticized Clinton for not commiting to a specific timetable for troop withdrawl. Now, he will not commit. He was against FISA, but then voted for it. He was all over the map on the Second Amendment.  He is a fierce gay rights advocate, but is against same-sex marriage, but also "against" Prop 8.  LISTEN UP: OBAMA WILL DO NOTHING TO ADVANCE GAY RIGHTS. He will not push through ENDA, a repeal of DADT or repeal of DOMA.  He is a fraud.


PUMA blog (0.00 / 0)
Is that way --->

[ Parent ]
Is "PUMA" the new catch-all for anyone who criticizes Obama? (3.20 / 5)
It's not accurate. PUMAs are anti-gay, they supported the anti-gay party in the most recent election.

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
Read his post (0.00 / 0)
He/she is clearly a Bitter Hillary supporter. I wouldn't want you to mix with that crowd unless you want be a joke (as they were in GE). criticism is fine, but You can easily tell the difference. Hillary btw was against gay marriage, and hasn't done squat for gay communities in NY (List things if you have them, what she did to advance their rights or call for marriage rights). no difference from obama who only supports civil unions (and always has).

[ Parent ]
And the Kool-Aid Lounge (0.00 / 0)
<----- Is

[ Parent ]
Whine Lounge is Also (0.00 / 0)
That way---> lots of it where you come from.

[ Parent ]
excellent (0.00 / 0)
You're absolutely awesome.

[ Parent ]
If your suggestion is... (0.00 / 0)
...that we have no business being angry about this, I find that a little odd. I wasn't fooling myself one bit about Obama (although I didn't think he was foolish enough in a billion years to invite such a meltdown of his inauguration day), but that doesn't mitigate my reaction to this one bit.


Not Taking Obama at His Word (4.00 / 2)
The problem I have with this criticism is that it doesn't take Obama at his word. He campaigned on "disagreeing without being disagreeable." His post partisan rhetoric, which was interestingly dissected in posts much earlier, is about affording those you disagree with respect. Brand the Republican Party or "Conservative Ideology" as evil, but be able to reach out to people who support either.

Rather, I think politics is the reason Obama did it, and it is consistant with his words. Warren has some interest in fighting AIDS, in (some kinds of) human rights and in the environment. If failing to treat him like a leper gets us a little bit closer to undoing the artificial barriers that prevent liberals from taking advantage of public support for our ideas on those issues, more power to it.

The current divisions advantage Conservatives. Our ideas are more popular, sometimes wildly more popular. But we cannot take advantage of say, Evangalicals support for environmental issues because Republicans successfully convince them that we distain them. If Obama can undo that, more power to him.

Guilt by association is such terrible logic whether it is with William Ayers or Rick Warren.  

Still think wrong to have Warren (0.00 / 0)
While I still think it is wrong to have Warren in this ceremony, I agree with everything you say, here.  There are pros and cons to this strategy; to pretend the pros don't exist is just stupid.  Human nature, but stupid human nature.

[ Parent ]
Hadn't thought of it that way (0.00 / 0)
Guilt by association is such terrible logic whether it is with William Ayers or Rick Warren.  

interesting. shows how political factions basically employ the same strategy sometimes, and loath it when the other side uses it.

[ Parent ]
If evangelicals hate gays (0.00 / 0)
more than they love the planet, then I'm sorry, I just don't see that there is any hope for them.

Obama can blow the dog whistle for them all he wants, invite Rick Warren to be his best friend, but all Dobson has to do is say "gay marriage abortion stem cells" and they will stick with the Republicans until the end of the world.

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
False Dichotomy (4.00 / 1)
They can distrust us enough to not believe we would impliment our good ideas. Heck, if they have no faith in our good will, why would they trust our ideas at all?

That doesn't mean that they hate gays more then they love the planet, it means that it is hard to forge alliances when you spend most of your time kicking each other in the gut.

One of the reasons it is so hard to forge peace alliances is that both sides tend not to trust each other.

The stronger, more powerful side tends to be the one who has the most opportunity to reach out. By affirming the humanity and dignity of the opposing side, they have a chance to build towards a real peace.

[ Parent ]
Go to the Inauguration (4.00 / 1)
and turn your back on Rick Warren.  Maybe he'll get the message.

Its not so much the gay marriage issue that is of concern to me here; it is the feeling that we have pander to and bring back into public life people who are ignorant and irrational.

Game (4.00 / 2)
Obama gave the game away when he and McCain went and kissed Warren's ring and tried to show what good "Christians" they are.

The correct response to that invitation should have been: "I'm running for president, not pope and I don't have to discuss my religious beliefs as part of my campaign".

Even if his religious beliefs are deeply held (McCain's aren't he was shamming) he shouldn't be pandering to the religious right. The presidency is a secular job and this country is getting more diverse all the time.

As only the second non-WASP president he should be especially careful to not ally himself with a specific group. (Kennedy was not a "P" and Obama is not a "W").

Shame on him.

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