Obama Stakes a Claim to Moral High Ground

International Herald Tribune, May 11, 2012 | Go to article overview

Obama Stakes a Claim to Moral High Ground


The president's words will not end the bitter fight over marriage rights, but they were of great symbolic value, and perhaps more.

It has always taken strong national leadership to expand equal rights in the United States, and it has long been obvious that marriage rights are no exception. President Obama offered some of that leadership on Wednesday. "I think same-sex couples should be able to get married," Mr. Obama said in an interview with ABC News that the White House arranged for the purpose of giving Mr. Obama a forum to say just that.

With those 10 words, Mr. Obama finally stopped temporizing and "evolving" his position on same-sex marriage and took the moral high ground on what may be the great civil rights struggle of our time. His words will not end the bitter fight over marriage rights, which we fear will continue for years to come. But they were of great symbolic value, and perhaps more. As Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York noted, no expansion of rights embraced by a president has failed to become the law of the land.

This is a president and a White House that has not always been unwavering in taking positions of principle, including on this issue. Mr. Obama's statement followed days of unseemly equivocation by the White House after Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. announced his support for same-sex marriage on Sunday. It also came one day after North Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment forbidding same-sex marriage and civil unions, which threatens all unmarried couples, health coverage for their children and domestic violence laws.

Still, the contrast was sharp between Mr. Obama and Mitt Romney, who took a hard-line position on Wednesday against same-sex marriage and civil unions with similar rights. He has said he favors a national constitutional amendment enshrining this particular bigotry.

Mr. Obama consciously presented his change of position (he used to favor so-called civil unions but not marriage) as a personal journey. He said he thought about "members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together," and about "those soldiers or airmen or Marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that 'don't ask, don't tell' is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage. …

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