By Paul M. Smith, Partner, Jenner & Block. Mr. Smith successfully challenged the constitutionality of sodomy laws in the landmark Supreme Court opinion, Lawrence v. Texas, and is a former chair of the ACS Board.
It takes no great insight to say that President Obama’s announcement of support for equal marriage rights for same-sex couples reflected, in part, mounting political pressure on the president. As Adam Nagourney said in Thursday’s New York Times, the president “was at risk of seeming politically timid and calculating, standing at the sidelines while a large number of Americans – including members of both parties – embraced gay marriage.” In fact, it became clear the campaign had misjudged the politics of this issue. Experience was showing it was close to impossible for Mr. Obama to talk with core members of his base without facing the same awkward question over and over – when are you going to get done “evolving” on the issue of equal marriage rights? That said, it does seem over the top for the Log Cabin Republicans to call the announcement “offensive and callous” on the same day when so many others, gay and straight, were inspired by the fact that a sitting president had moved so far toward advocating complete equality for LGBT citizens.
The more interesting question is why the original decision to avoid this issue until after the election proved to be so wrong. After all, candidates avoid controversial issues all the time when voters and the press will allow it. The answer is in part that the issue of equal marriage rights is constantly being brought up this year as a result of referenda that will occur in four states in November (not to mention the vote just held in North Carolina) as well as the Prop 8 and DOMA lawsuits.