Darwin-win: Obama’s evolution on same-sex marriage firms up his voter base

President Obama’s support of same-sex marriage was the topic of conversation Wednesday between Anthony Bottiglieri (left) and Chris Tadeo at Woody’s in Center City. David Swanson / Staff Photographer
President Obama’s support of same-sex marriage was the topic of conversation Wednesday between Anthony Bottiglieri (left) and Chris Tadeo at Woody’s in Center City. David Swanson / Staff Photographer
Posted: May 11, 2012

IT FEELS LIKE it took fish less time to grow legs and walk on land than it took for President Obama’s position on gay marriage to finally “evolve” to supporting it.

Leave it to the ever-cautious “No Drama Obama” to take an epic moment in the slow forward march of civil rights for all Americans and to leave supporters to wonder if they should be shouting, “You’ve come a long way, baby!” or asking the president, “Jeez, what took you so long?”

I have to confess that my original reaction was the latter, to focus on the politics, when I heard that Obama had finally announced his personal support for gay marriage in the all-too-calculated format of an ABC News interview that the White House had hurriedly set up (usually it’s the other way around — a news outlet spends months begging for a presidential one-on-one).

There’s nothing wrong with the reality that it took Obama awhile to change his position from one that was supportive of civil unions and other gay rights to one that also saw the right of marriage as essential to true equality. That’s typical for many liberal-minded folks in the generation that both the president and I grew up in — the tail-end baby boomers known as Generation Jones, born before the Stonewall riots and long before what apparently is Joe Biden’s favorite sitcom, “Will and Grace.”

But the political calculation seemed so raw. The moment that Obama first announced two years ago that his gay-marriage position was “evolving,” everyone pretty much knew this day would come — and that it would come on the day that it would give the biggest bounce to his 2012 re-election campaign.

And, so, then came the rollout that had all the precision of a new ad campaign for Lexus — the trial-run pronouncements of Vice President Joe Biden and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and even a cowardly wait until after the last vote had been cast in North Carolina, a presidential election “battleground” state where voters overwhelmingly approved an anti-gay marriage referendum on Tuesday.

Remember when the Rev. Martin Luther King focus-grouped his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”? Me neither.

But about the politics: While it may not be the safest move for Obama, history will likely prove it to be the smart one. His words should energize his now-apathetic base of younger supporters, and taking an unambiguous stand gives him a chance to contrast with the flip-floppiness of GOP rival Mitt Romney.

And, so, this is the President Obama we’ve come to know ... and feel lukewarm about.

But, then, you remember that in this particular civil-rights moment, Obama isn’t supposed to be the Martin Luther King — he’s the Lyndon Johnson.

The president’s awkward political stagecraft should not obscure the fact that his words are just the punctuation mark to a 43-year script that was written by brave activists from those first Stonewall nights through Larry Kramer and Harvey Milk and right up to this day, May 9, 2012.

It is truly a historic day when those who believe that life, liberty and the pursuit of happily ever after is a right for every American don’t have to feel like a fish out of water. n

Contact Will Bunch at 215-854-2957 or at bunchw@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter, @Will_Bunch, or read his blog, Attytood.com.

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