Editorial: Obama, speak up on gay marriage
Vice President Joe Biden told a national television audience Sunday that he's "absolutely comfortable" with gay marriage and is heartened by its growing public acceptance. One day later, Education Secretary Arne Duncan followed suit, answering "yes I do," when asked whether he believes same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. Those declarations, as well as a ballot referendum in North Carolina, have turned the spotlight on the issue -- and Obama's official ambivalence.
The president continues to cling to his support for civil unions and the dodge that his position is "evolving." It should be fully formed by now. Same-sex couples should be able to marry. Denying them the same right as heterosexuals to wed the person they choose violates the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection of the law.
The president's leadership is clearly needed. North Carolina voters dealt a blow to marriage equality yesterday by approving an amendment to their constitution specifying that marriage between a man and a woman is the only domestic union recognized by the state. Since a North Carolina statute already prohibits same-sex marriage, the amendment was a bit like digging up a coffin to nail it shut. But by becoming the 30th state with a constitutional ban, North Carolina made it clear that this is no time for equivocation from the White House.
At least Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, is clear: He is unambiguously opposed to same-sex marriage. But that hasn't spared him the controversy that hovers over politics and homosexuality. Richard Grenell, who is gay, was hired by the campaign a month ago as a foreign policy adviser. But then he was marginalized and silenced after conservative groups made an issue of his sexual orientation and vocal support of same-sex marriage. Romney was wrong not to stand by Grenell, who resigned last week.
Romney's also on the wrong side of the Constitution and history on this issue. Americans who 10 years ago were overwhelmingly opposed to same-sex marriage are now evenly split, according to recent polls.
Obama has been on the right side of other gay-rights issues. He presided over the repeal of the military's discriminatory Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, which didn't allow homosexuals to serve openly. And his administration has refused to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act in court. The act defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman. It also prohibits requiring any state to recognize the union of same-sex couples legally married in another state. The Obama Justice Department said it should be overturned.
Same-sex marriage isn't an easy issue for candidate Obama. Full-throated support could cost him votes in swing states critical to his re-election, such as North Carolina. It could also alienate some black voters who oppose same sex marriage, often because of religious beliefs.
But the public shouldn't have to wait until after the votes are counted in November before finding out how far Obama's view on this issue has evolved.