I cast my ballot for Senator Obama in Tuesday’s election. I did this despite the fact that Barack Obama is wrong on gay-rights policy. Democratic gains in the House and Senate increase the possibility of granting same-sex marriage rights; however, our President-elect does not seek them.
As Viewpoints writer Matt Zakosek noted (“Swept Under the Rug No Longer,” 10/7/08), Obama mentioned gays near the beginning of his election night acceptance speech. Yes, he mentioned us. He listed us among other groups that are currently politically acceptable demographics to enumerate among one’s followers. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m proud of the progress we’ve made as a nation: We’ve elected a black man president, and politicians can now list gays among other Americans who vote for them.
Zakosek continues, “Obama has been a true ally of the gay community, standing by our side in places like Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church.” This is a criminal exaggeration on Zakosek’s part. Obama did no more than to spend one sentence out of a 34-minute speech chastising socially conservative blacks for not supporting LGBTQ equality. Or as Zakosek views it, “...Obama championed our cause [in Atlanta], just as he did in Tuesday night’s speech.” We should not be ashamed of our sexuality; therefore, we should not think it stunning that a politician is willing to say “gay brothers and sisters” in public. I’m glad Senator Obama is mature enough to say “gay” out loud in a legitimate context, but it is fundamentally unimpressive in the year 2008 and is certainly not “champion[ing]” equality.
The frustrating passage of Proposition 8 in California, which has now made same-sex marriage illegal for California citizens, was partly enabled by a high turnout of socially conservative black voters. Over 90 percent of black voters cast their ballots to elect Obama and 70 percent simultaneously cast their ballots to codify discrimination. Where was our “true ally”—Barack Obama’s support for gay rights in California? Many Californian families may lose their marriage licenses, and many more will not have the opportunity to marry because of Obama’s cowardice on this issue.
He has had the opportunity to call for real political equity for queer Americans, but instead he has engaged in political doublespeak, asserting that marriage is not a civil right while somehow arguing that nondiscrimination is. At odds with basic logic, Obama both supports passing the Equal Rights Amendment (“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged...on account of sex.”) and supports denying marriage to couples of the same sex. Beyond the obvious contradiction, why is sexual equality important enough to merit a constitutional amendment, while marriage “should be left to the states”? Does systematic, institutionalized prejudice against LGBTQ couples not deserve the attention of the federal government?
Moderate and conservative Americans are partly responsible for electing Senator Obama. If he were to come out in favor of full marriage equality, he would probably lose many of those supporters in key states. However, if we want our leaders to support marriage rights for all Americans, then for the next four years it will be our responsibility to make marital discrimination politically costly for President Obama and the Democratic majority.
Class of 2011