In many ways, President Obama’s new position on the whole issue of gay
marriage is completely irrelevant. This has largely been a state issue,
and while the Justice Department decided not to enforce the Defense of
Marriage Act, the president’s signature or veto is not pending on any
piece of legislation produced by the Congress.
But that is not how the media played it. For them, this issue is far bigger than Social Security reform, Medicare reform, the debt limit, the largest tax increase in history (which is just around the corner) and the shocking lack of leadership from this president on a host of other issues.
If you live in a big city like Washington or New York, you are going to have one position on gay marriage. If you live in rural America or the suburbs, most likely you will have another, unless you have a family member or close friend who happens to be gay.
Presumably, the president had already wrapped up the votes in most of the big cities and lost the votes of folks in rural America. So for him, it is all a matter of how it plays out in the suburbs.
As I have written before, the suburbs have been changing over the last five years. They are more culturally and racially diverse than they were in their heyday, and they are under considerable financial strain, with the collapse of the housing bubble.
But suburban America is far more religious than big-city America, and it is really unclear if this is a political winner for the president or a political loser. When voters have a chance to express their positions privately on the issue of gay marriage in the voting booth, usually they give it a big thumbs-down. The American people are still not necessarily comfortable with the whole idea.
However, it has become more and more uncomfortable for politicians to take that position publicly. This is especially true in Washington, D.C., where congressmen and senators have shied away from the issue much more than they did 10 years ago. A decade ago, gay-bashing was fashionable. These days, it is not only uncouth, it is conduct unbecoming of a politician.
The gay lobby is not nearly as powerful as the quiet persuasion of prominent and wealthy gay donors, fundraisers and political strategists. And for politicians who rely on these folks to win their campaigns, it has become harder and harder to take tough stands against issues like gay marriage.
The religious community is not as shy as the political class. If there is one issue that Southern Baptists, Catholics, Muslims, Mormons, African Methodists and conservative Jews all agree on, it is that gay marriage is an affront to God. They will continue to preach from the pulpit that gay marriage should be stopped in its tracks, and some of their most reliable attendees will vote on the issue.
It is not altogether clear how this plays out in the ballot box. With so many more important issues facing America, like persistent unemployment and wars that seem to never end, I doubt that the president’s announcement will be at the top of the list of voter concerns. But you never know.