Evolve on marriage

Team Obama wrongly moved to quickly re-frame Vice President Biden’s comments about marriage equality on Sunday’s “Meet the Press.” Most importantly, the president and vice president share a core belief in equal rights and protections for every American; like a growing number of Americans, the VP expressed support for enshrining those rights in marriage. Respectful conversations about areas of disagreement have always been a part of evolving and moving America forward, especially in the cause of expanding constitutionally protected civil rights; nor are disagreements within a party or administration tantamount to a national security crisis.

While the administration has publicly opposed North Carolina’s Amendment 1 on same-sex marriage and bigoted measures like it — including the Defense of Marriage Act — I hope President Obama will soon complete his personal evolution and more vocally support the marriage equality effort. Politically, Obama is on solid ground to take a stand based on his personal values, as he’s running against a man polls indicate a majority of Americans believe will only tell them what they want to hear — likely reinforced by Romney campaign efforts to have it both ways on the departure of an openly gay staffer. Among the increasingly small number of Americans who still oppose same-sex marriage, most of them will respect a position based on core values even if they disagree with it, and those who don’t weren’t likely to vote for him anyway.

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Obama’s leadership on the issue is also needed to help push back against conservative groups’ efforts to use homophobia to drive a wedge between core African-American and LGBT Democratic Party supporters. Like divisive Voter ID laws that could disenfranchise 5 million voters, or immigration laws like Arizona’s S.B. 1070 that codify racial profiling, African-Americans should see these efforts for what they are: another attempt to keep groups of Americans fighting one another over the same piece of “the pie” so that they are too busy to work together for more of the whole pie. 

As my MSNBC colleague Melissa Harris-Perry recently stated, we should very publicly have one another’s backs in fighting all forms of discrimination. Being denigrated or seen as an “other” who poses a threat to what has been called “the natural order” is a tactic we know all too well.

When I was a teenager, my grandfather explained to me that the reason I wasn’t welcome in his Greensboro, N.C., home was his belief — on legal and moral grounds — that mixing of the races was a sin against the laws of nature. (He did come to realize he was wrong.) The legal and moral arguments made today about same-sex marriage being against the laws of nature or threatening the institution of marriage sound hauntingly familiar to the bigoted excuses of my grandfather and others.

One of the most important things we’ve learned about Obama is how his own mixed-race heritage and unique upbringing gave him a deep, personal understanding about the limits imposed by outside definitions of either/or choices, like black versus white, and how he chose instead to embrace otherness and the many parts to our exceptional American story. LGBT Americans and their families are part of that story. When the president talks about every American having a fair shot and playing by the same set of rules, that should include marriage.

Karen Finney is a political analyst for MSNBC and Democratic consultant, and co-host of POTUS/Sirius XM’s “The Flaks.”