EDITORIAL: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Obama, same-sex marriage and the US election
, May 26, 2012
Last week’s statement by US President Barack Obama that he supports same-sex marriage, will have implications for the course of the debate in Australia and on the forthcoming US Presidential election to be held on November 6.
Although Obama’s statement was made in a television interview, the words he used indicated that it was a carefully-considered policy declaration, not a slip of the tongue.
He told America’s ABC News, “It is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”
At the time of Obama’s statement, he was supported by Vice-President Joe Biden, and by the majority leader in the Senate, the Democrat Harry Read, indicating that the Democrats are firmly behind the President.
His statement came just a day after voters in North Carolina, a state Obama narrowly carried in the 2008 election, approved a state constitutional amendment forbidding gay marriages, civil unions and domestic partnerships. The measure was carried overwhelmingly, by 61 percent to 39. Similar state constitutional amendments have been approved in 31 other US states.
There can be no doubt that Obama’s endorsement will energise the homosexual lobby in Australia which has been pushing for a parliamentary vote on same-sex marriage in Australia. There are currently three bills before federal parliament on the issue.
Until Obama’s statement, it was widely thought that the Coalition’s firm opposition, coupled with defections from Labor, could defeat an initiative which gained tremendous traction after last December’s ALP national conference overturned Labor’s century-old policy of defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
The impact of Obama’s statement in the US will be closely watched.
Most US opinion polls put Obama ahead of his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, in the US Presidential race, reflecting the fact that Obama is the incumbent, and the appearance that the US economy has staged a moderate recovery since the depths of the global financial crisis in 2008, when he was elected.
Economic growth has been rising and unemployment has been falling, while Obama has also taken credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and the anticipated withdrawal of US ground forces from Afghanistan.
As a self-made millionaire, Romney has been a target of Obama’s rhetoric that he represents not the mainstream but wealthy America, which was allegedly responsible for the global financial crisis.
However, the marriage issue resonates deeply in the United States, particularly since 2004 when Massachusetts became the first US state to issue marriage licences to same-sex couples. Since then, five other states have approved same-sex marriage, either by legislation or judicial ruling.
In no states have voters approved same-sex marriage. In fact, 32 states prohibit same-sex marriage through their constitutions, and 12 by legislation.
Federally, the US Congress in 1996 carried the Defence of Marriage Act, which explicitly defined marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman, for the purposes of US federal law; but this Act has been challenged in the courts. In 2010, a District Court judge in Massachusetts ruled that the Defence of Marriage Act was unconstitutional, but that ruling is itself being challenged.
One effect of Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage is to have united the previously fractious Republicans behind Romney.
Both Romney’s major challengers, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, endorsed him, uniting the party in the run-up to the Presidential election. As voting is not compulsory in the United States, the marriage issue will be a rallying call for social conservatives to get people out to vote.
Another important point is that the 32 states which have voted to define traditional marriage include every state in the south of the United States, many of which have traditionally been Democrat, pointing to the fact that marriage will now become a centrepiece of the US presidential campaign. Additionally, black Americans who overwhelmingly supported Obama, also support the traditional definition of marriage.
Some have expressed surprise that Obama should have gone public on this issue, in light of the fact he has been able to achieve de facto recognition of same-sex relationships through administrative action.
He may have thought that he could split the Republicans; but in fact, the opposite has happened. Ron Paul, the small-government Republican from Texas who continues to oppose Romney in the Republican primaries, is a firm supporter of traditional marriage.
The effect of Obama’s announcement will undoubtedly be to galvanise the homosexual lobby and its supporters behind him in the Presidential election. But it will also galvanise many millions of Americans who in 32 states have voted against same-sex marriage.
It would be ironic if Obama’s support for same-sex marriage were to unify his opponents and bring them out to vote against him in November.
Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.