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4 reasons Obama's gay-marriage support is pure symbolism
Obama bestows presidential support on the gay-marriage movement — but it's not likely to change much on the ground
 
A T-shirt promoting equality in the Human Rights Campaign store in San Francisco: President Obama's support of same-sex marriage isn't likely to matter much, either electorally or legislatively, critics say.
A T-shirt promoting equality in the Human Rights Campaign store in San Francisco: President Obama's support of same-sex marriage isn't likely to matter much, either electorally or legislatively, critics say.
AP Photo/Ben Margot

President Obama made history this week by supporting same-sex marriage "from the tallest and most important bully pulpit in the world," says Frank Bruni at The New York Times. With a few words, Obama was able to offer gay couples "a new, heightened degree of respect," and his announcement was a "poignant and compelling marker" of America's progress on civil rights. That said, it's not guaranteed that Obama's evolved views on gay marriage will have any impact on gay rights or the November election. Here, four reasons why his endorsement is mere words:

1. It won't change the dynamic in November
"People who care deeply about same-sex marriage are primarily clustered on the ideological left and right of their respective parties," say Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake at The Washington Post. They would be voting for or against Obama "no matter what he did" about same-sex marriage; and "for everybody else, it's a back-burner issue — at best." For most voters, it's just a "temporary distraction" from the economy.

2. Neither Obama nor Romney wants to talk about it
While both sides will use the issue "to energize their bases," Republicans and Democrats both know that "there is danger in inflaming passions and raising expectations about one of the most volatile social and cultural issues of the day," says Karen Tumulty at The Washington Post. Obama still wants to win over states where voters have banned same-sex marriages, while Romney is making a push for independents who might support them. So both would rather talk about something else.

3. Obama's support stops at the states
Obama said he personally supported same-sex marriage, but conceded that states should be able to determine their own marriage laws. "That is a half-assed, cowardly cop-out," says John Cook at Gawker. It means that states can continue to pass gay-marriage bans (as North Carolina did earlier this week), and that Obama doesn't believe that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right. 

4. He's just mirroring his administration's views
Obama is merely playing catch up with his administration's legal position… "without going beyond it," says Emily Bazelon at Slate. In February 2011, the Justice Department began to refrain from defending the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman. With that move, the Justice Department essentially said that the federal government should recognize the legal rights of same-sex couples in states where gay marriage is legal. Obama is just officially supporting that idea.

 

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