The Cynical, Offensive Response to Obama’s Support of Marriage Equality

May 11, 2012

by Jeremy Leaming

Quickly after President Obama announced his support of marriage equality, the president’s knee-jerk detractors doused the moment with cynicism. The president, they said backed into the announcement or they snidely asked what’s the difference between a flip-flop and evolving.

The response from the far right – Obama is a scourge, a menace to society, God is surely irked now – was overwrought and hardly surprising. The cynicism, however, was offensive for its insensitivity and cluelessness. Did the dunderhead crowd listen to the president’s comments or was it expressing a latent distaste for gay Americans or ignorance of the challenges lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender Americans face in a society where many are still bent on oppressing and marginalizing them.

Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick, argues that listening to Obama’s comments is, surprising as it may seem, helpful, writing, “Whatever your view of President Obama’s motives, or the legal consequences of his statement …, it is not in dispute that the words he spoke gave many Americans – including gay children and teenagers – the message that he had heard them, and that their experiences mattered so much that he’d changed his views – personal, political and legal.”

Or as James Fallows, the longtime correspondent for the Atlantic, said:  

I am aware that there are various slice-and-dice cynical assessments one could make of the president’s comments today. (Why did he take so long? Why did he back off the support he’d expressed in the 1990s? Might this be useful as a wedge issue in the election? It doesn’t have any immediate since it’s still up to the states. And so on.) But the fact remains that five minutes before his announcement, no one could be sure that he would take the step of staying that his personal views had changed. He did – and it was important, brave, potentially risky, and right. That should be noted It’s a significant day.

The timing of Obama’s announcement was, however, pitch-perfect for others, coming a day after voters in North Carolina overwhelmingly supported a broadly worded state constitutional amendment forbidding same-sex marriage and domestic partnerships and civil unions. It was an unnecessary vote, for the state already has a statute banning same-sex marriage. Instead, as The Daily Beast blogger Andrew Sullivan noted, the vote was vindictive, an obnoxious reminder to lesbians and gay men in the state that they are second-class citizens.

For the gay families in North Carolina and gay youngsters across the nation who are bullied into staying closeted, Obama’s reflective comments about equality were surely heard, understood and deeply felt. Sadly a gaggle of cynics could or would not hear the message, opting for airing jaded and tired jabs.