March 22, 2012
By Jacob Combs
It looks as if President Obama’s storied “evolution” on marriage equality may finally be entering an end stage, reports Chris Johnson of the Washington Blade, citing an inside source in a piece published today about the administration’s movement towards a full endorsement of equality. From the Blade:
The chances that Obama will make such an announcement before the election are looking better than in previous months as the issue receives growing media attention and voters in a handful of states face ballot initiatives this year.
An informed source, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, said “active conversations” are taking place between the White House and the campaign about whether Obama should complete his evolution on marriage and that the chances of him making an announcement are about 50-50.
According to the source, the administration would like to unveil another major pro-LGBT initiative before the November election, and an endorsement of marriage equality could fit the bill. But concerns persist on how an endorsement of same-sex marriage would play in four or five battleground states.
As always, this battleground state/swing voter argument is what marriage advocates run up against when it comes to the President’s evolution. The Obama campaign worries that a marriage announcement could alienate socially conservative Democrats as well as the independents who will no doubt be so important to his reelection. These are valid concerns in the abstract, but the real question is: do they really line up with reality?
Elections are fuzzy creatures at best, so guessing how different factors would affect them is an inexact science. Still, I think a persuasive argument can be made that an endorsement of marriage equality would likely have little negative effect on Obama’s reelection, and would in fact have a significant positive effect.
First, as polling continues to demonstrate that support for marriage equality is strong and growing, some of the most significant gains on the issue have been among independents. A PPP poll from earlier this month showed that independent voters had shifted in just two years since 2009 from opposing marriage equality by a 52/46 margin to supporting it by a 57/36 margin. A Field poll in California in early March also showed inroads amongst indepdents, with a full 56 percent supporting the freedom to marry. Even more significantly, a recent Wall Street Journal poll conducted nationally showed that support for marriage had increased dramatically in several unexpected demographic groups, most significantly blue-collar voters, which experienced a 20 percent jump in the last two years, and African-Americans, which experienced an 18 percent increase. A majority of Hispanics aged 18 to 34 also voiced support.
These opinion shifts show that marriage equality is quickly becoming a winning issue for pro-equality candidates even among constituencies that have been historically hesitant about the issue. Most of the voters who would oppose Obama for a pro-marriage position would oppose him anyways on other issues. As these various polls demonstrate, a marriage announcement would likely do little harm to the President’s standing amongst independents and important Democratic voters.
In truth, though, what the Blade article truly demonstrates is the fact that many of us in the marriage equality community have known and been frustrated by for years. That the administration is considering when and how a marriage announcement should be made shows that Obama already supports marriage equality, at least privately. What this means is that LGBT advocates end up frustrated with him for his glacial pace at adopting a position that they know will come eventually, and anti-marriage forces no doubt acknowledge the same facts and oppose Obama for what they know will be his future position. In that way, the evolution stance is a lose-lose situation, and it has the added damage of allowing GOP candidates and pundits to make the specious claim that they share the same views as the President when it comes to marriage equality.
If Obama were to make his marriage announcement before the election, it would no doubt give him a big boost of support going into the fall. It would energize the young Democratic base, who look at this issue as a fundamental rights question of paramount importance. It would excite and motivate LGBT voters (and, even more importantly, donors), who have been frustrated with the President but would no doubt respond to a huge position shift on one of their central issues. And it would draw a better distinction with the eventual GOP nominee, who will be one of several men who have espoused far-right anti-LGBT views throughout the primary campaign that are out of touch with the majority of Americans.
The one hitch: an ENDA executive order. On Tuesday, the Labor and Justice departments cleared an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The order is named after the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill that would prohibit such discrimination amongst private employers but which failed to pass Congress. With this ENDA order close to being ready for signature, the Obama administration could make ENDA its pre-November LGBT action as opposed to marriage equality. “My feeling is you’ll get one, you won’t get both before Election Day,” said the source quoted by the Washington Blade.
An ENDA victory would have a big impact, and would provide long-overdue rights to LGBT individuals who work for the government and for federal contractors. It would not, however, have the same electoral value as a marriage announcement. Supporting marriage equality before the election would put Obama in a much stronger position to make it a reality in his second term as president.