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Gay marriage: Will Obama’s support turn the tide?

The president's statement—“I think same-sex couples should be able to get married”—is an historic moment for gay civil rights.

There’s no going back now, said Richard Socarides in NewYorker.com. The struggle for gay civil rights in America may still have a few reels to run, but President Obama’s simple statement last week to ABC News—“I think same-sex couples should be able to get married”—will surely be remembered as “an important symbolic and substantive turning point” in the long struggle for equality—and the moment when full marriage rights for all citizens finally became inevitable. Public opinion has been rapidly shifting in favor of gay marriage, said Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post, but this was still a “bold political gambit” for Obama in an election year. It may cost him the votes of some independents, while re-energizing the social conservative base behind Republican Mitt Romney. Ultimately, though, the “hope and change” president had no choice but to hop off the fence. Gay marriage is a “national issue involving the civil rights of millions of Americans,” and the president’s support represents “a historic advance in the nation’s long march toward equality and justice.”

Gay marriage supporters “shouldn’t congratulate themselves” just yet, said Rich Lowry in NationalReview.com. This was also a banner week for opponents of gay marriage, who saw 61 percent of voters in North Carolina approve a ballot initiative restricting marriage to heterosexual couples. In so doing, North Carolina joined a list of 30 other states that have banned gay marriage. Remember the Equal Rights Amendment, and gun control? “History is littered with the wreckage of causes pronounced inevitable by all right-thinking people.” Gay marriage may have the support of the White House, said USA Today in an editorial, “but the idea has yet to catch on where it matters most: with voters.” Ultimately, this issue is likely to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court—probably when taking on a federal court ruling that California’s ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional. Then “the opinions that matter most will be those of the nine justices”—not the voters’ and not Obama’s.

The Supreme Court should step in, said Colbert King in The Washington Post. If school desegregation and interracial marriage had been placed on state ballots, they’d still be illegal in many Southern states. So how can we put the civil rights of gay and lesbian couples to a majority vote? This is why Obama’s statement was disappointing, said Dahlia Lithwick in Slate.com. While he said he personally supports same-sex marriage, he also said it was an issue best handled by voters in each state. That’s a total cop-out, designed to avoid the kind of furious backlash that Roe v. Wade triggered. But just as the U.S. couldn’t survive as “a mix of free states and slave states,” it can’t create a system where a couple have the full legal benefits of marriage in one state and lose them when they cross a state border. The courts must recognize what’s at stake here: “true equality, full citizenship for everyone, and basic human dignity.”

As a gay married man, I think imposing gay marriage on every state would be a mistake, said Jonathan Rauch in The Washington Post. Public support for gay marriage is steadily growing, but if the Supreme Court were to abruptly overturn all 31 of those statewide bans by a bitterly partisan 5–4 vote, it would just “escalate the argument” and galvanize the traditionalists. We’re already galvanized, said Pat Buchanan in RealClearPolitics.com. By taking up the core cause of “anti-Christian secularism,” Obama has put the country on notice that if he wins in November, and gets to appoint even one more Supreme Court justice, “gay marriage will be forced on all of America.” Now an election that social conservatives had been struggling to get excited about “is shaping up as the Antietam of the culture war.”

We Republicans need to face reality, said Michael Gerson in The Washington Post. People under 30 simply don’t have the same visceral discomfort with same-sex marriage that their parents do. Rather than fight a losing battle, conservatives should try to ensure that when government recognizes gay marriage, there are legal protections in place for those “with differing moral beliefs.” For the same reason, said Andrew Sullivan in TheDailyBeast.com, those of us who believe in same-sex marriage should be wary of overplaying our hand. Far better for the nation to slowly come around to recognizing the justice in marriage equality, state by state, than to have gay marriage imposed by the courts. We’re going to win in the end, so we “can and should be patient.”

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