Obama’s coming out in support of gay marriage is a leap forward

Campaigning with a smile. Photo: jmtimages/Flickr

As can be predicted, social conservatives and many members of the republican party (including presidential hopeful Mitt Romney) have said that Obama is destroying good ol’ American family values. What might surprise people about the US’s attitude to gay marriage however, is that a lot of the country is actually in favour of it. When people talk about gay rights in America the first things that often spring to mind are the stunningly offensive “God hates fags” placards of the Westboro Baptist Church and others. In fact, several recent polls have put the proportion in favour of gay marriage in America at well over 50 per cent for the first time in history, so times appear to be changing. When you look back and see that homosexuality was only declassified as a mental disorder in the 70s, it makes me hopeful as a decent human being to see such a significant shift in attitudes.

Despite this widespread support (or apathy, depending on who you ask) same-sex marriage is not recognised by the federal government in the United States, but is by a few individual states. This is a fairly strange situation. The Declaration of Independence, the historic document that announced the secession of the American colonies from the English throne in 1776, states that “all men are created equal”, and its famous historic counterpart, the Constitution of the USA, that these men are entitled to “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”. Now I’m no political philosopher or legal mastermind, but if a couple of the same sex will find “happiness” by getting married, the quotes I’ve dug up seem to suggest the US government should allow them to do that.

Whether or not you agree with the idea of gay marriage, a big question being asked by a lot of commentators though is – what impact will this have on Obama’s presidency? He has already abolished the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on homosexuals serving in the American armed forces. Along with appointing the largest number of gay staffers to his backroom team during his first term compared to his presidential predecessors, he has earned his moniker as “the most gay-friendly president ever”. Clearly then, he has the gay vote all sewn up. But what will it do to the rest of the votes he’s battling with Mitt Romney for this November? In terms of the ultra-Republican heartlands in the South – not a lot, as even by being on the gay’s side, they couldn’t dislike him much more – but that’s not really surprising.

As for the rest of the United States, the jury is well and truly out. Being in support of gay marriage is hopefully something that wouldn’t win or lose someone an election, and it’s unlikely to be the case here. A recent Gallup poll suggested that 60 per cent of people wouldn’t change their voting habits based on the announcement, so Barack can probably rest easy. In terms of long-term legacy, his presidency will surely be remembered for having tried to enhance and advance the rights of the gay community to try and be on par with the rest of society– and who could argue with that?

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