Obama’s Gay Marriage Shift Lacking Federal Perspective?

image from www.thedailybeast.com

by Sean O’Toole

President Barack Obama came out with a bold statement in favour of legalising gay marriage, a day after voters in North Carolina approved by a wide margin an amendment to their state constitution that bans not only gay marriage but also civil unions and potentially other kinds of domestic partnerships.

Gay rights groups had endured a long and frustrating wait for President Obama to clarify his views on the issue after stating over the last year and a half that his views on the issue had been “evolving.”

Obama’s statement was widely applauded by gay-rights activists, who had long thought that, secretly, the president backed gay marriage but was holding off on speaking publicly until after the Nov. 6 US Presidential election. Obama will face staunchly anti-gay Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, who not only opposes equal marriage rights but also is in full favour of disenfranchising American gay and lesbian citizens of their existing civil partnership rights.

It is uncertain what effect The Presidents stance on the gay rights issue will have on his election chances, in what is expected to be the most highly funded and dirtiest election the world has ever seen. Already some are fearing that it will damage his hopes for winning a second term by alienating the conservative aspects of his existing support, and others predicting that it will solidify his position with democrat and gay voters. The fact that a projected majority of African Americans oppose gay marriage, marks the timing of his ABC news address as extremely risky, politically. It is understood that conservative swing voters, African Americans and Latinos are all regarded as key to Obama’s re-election in November.

In the ABC interview, Obama said he was influenced not only by gay staff members, and gay military men and women who are now legally allowed to serve openly, but also by conversations with his wife and daughters.

Obama explained that he had previously “hesitated” on marriage because he thought same-sex unions would be “sufficient” in order to guarantee rights for couples such as hospital visitations. And he said he wanted to be “sensitive” to the fact that for many Americans, the word “marriage” evokes “very powerful positions, religious beliefs and so forth.”

Obama’s statement has more rhetorical and political significance than any real change that can be effected at a federal level. Over recent times in the United States, marriage laws are determined at the state level and currently only six states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage. With the inclusion of North Carolina, 30 states have banned gay marriage in their constitutions.

Guardian Infograph on US State by State Constitutions on Gay Rights

Realistically, however, there are blatant oversights in the authenticity of Obama’s intentions in the making of this “historic” speech, having previously refused to defend Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act against constitutional challenges. The Act states that the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriages, gives rise to further equality considerations.

Notably, at federal level there is also the immigration issue; Should gay marriages (foreign or domestic) be valid for immigration to the United States? The Federal government has special tax rules for married people. It gives spouses rights and responsibilities under programs like Social Security. It offers benefits to the spouses of its several million employees. It also confers citizenship on foreigners based on their marriages to U.S. citizens.

Obama’s subtle failing has been in making a speech that is merely symbolic and crowd pleasing, without actually putting forward an effectual agenda towards improving Human Rights on a resounding level.

At an event in Oklahoma City, Mitt Romney responded to the news of Obama’s same-sex marriage shift by reiterating that he himself continues to believe that marriage is between one man and one woman.

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