Gay Marriage

The Strength of a Movement Is More Important Than the Warmth of a President's Heart

|

Glenn Greenwald makes an important point about the president's endorsement of same-sex marriage:

Matchmaking

[T]he pressure continuously applied on Obama by some gay groups, most gay activists, and (especially) rich gay funders undoubtedly played a significant role….As David Sirota explained today, this demonstrates why it is so vital to always apply critical pressure even to politicians one likes and supports, and conversely, it demonstrates why it is so foolish and irresponsible to devote oneself with uncritical, blind adoration to a politician, whether in an election year or any other time (unconditional allegiance is the surest way to render one's beliefs and agenda irrelevant). When someone who wields political power does something you dislike or disagree with, it's incumbent upon you to object, criticize, and demand a different course. Those who refuse to do so are abdicating the most basic duty of citizenship and rendering themselves impotent.

It may very well be true that Obama took this step not out of any genuine conviction, but because he perceives that high levels of enthusiasm among the Democratic base generally and gay donors specifically are necessary for his re-election, or because Biden's comments forced his hand, or any number of other tactical reasons. I don't know what his secret motives are, but even if they could be discerned, I think it's irrelevant.

When it comes to assessing a politician, what matters, at least to me, are actions, not motives. If they do the wrong thing, they should be criticized regardless of motive; conversely, if they do the right thing, they should be credited. I've had zero tolerance over the last three years for people who pop up to justify all the horrible things Obama has done by claiming that he is forced to do them out of political necessity or in cowardly deference to public opinion; that's because horrible acts don't become less horrible because they're prompted by some rational, self-interested political motive rather than conviction. That's equally true of positive acts…

As I've said more than once, I'm less interested in electing officials who agree with me than in building movements that can pressure officials who don't agree with me. From January 2009 til yesterday, the president of the United States almost certainly agreed with the supporters of gay marriage but he wasn't willing to say so in public, thanks to the potential pressure to be felt from the other side. Then gay-rights activists organized some pressure of their own, and they got results.

You might retort that the activists haven't won much: Obama personally supports their right to marry but still favors a state-by-state approach to the issue. And even if you think the state-by-state approach is best, you can nod your head when Radley Balko points out the skewed priorities implicit in the president's on-again, off-again approach to federalism: "Obama apparently believes the states should be able to discriminate when it comes to marriage benefits, but if they allow cancer and AIDS patients to smoke pot, he asserts the supremacy of federal law, and sends in the SWAT teams."

Fine: It isn't a big victory. But it's a victory, and it's a lesson in how victories are often achieved—one that activists around other issues, such as the drug war, can learn from. At any rate, with gay marriage the most important battleground has always been the culture, not the government. The shift in the president's public position might not change the law of the land, but it's a high-profile moment in the culture war.

NEXT: Question for Scott Walker Recall Fans: How Much Higher Should Wisconsin's Taxes Be?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. But remember money in politics is evil!!

    The only reason Obama did this is because he needed the money. If the gay left and the left in general had the world they wanted with only publicly funded elections, this never happens.

    1. You really are serious about publicly funded elections, aren’t you?

      1. No I am not. But it it is more than a bit ironic that the very thing that liberals are crowing about this morning happened solely because of the power of money in politics.

        1. John’s right here… liberals want publicly-funded elections, but also love the money they get from their versions of the Koch brothers.

    2. I put the “gay for pay” article up on my FB, because I simply detest the crowing about this from my liberal friends. An hour or so later, no one has bothered to comment. They just can’t see it.

      1. and they will not comment. Ran across the same thing with the same type people, a number of whom I ‘unsubscribed’ from on FB. It was actually quite liberating; reduces the amount of bullshit I am exposed to.

        1. This. I hate to do it, cause in some cases these are friends from waaaaay back. But teh STOOPID – I can’t take it any more.

          So buh bye…from FB. We’ll still meet each summer for Wild Weekend, friends. Where we will NOT discuss politics, or I’ll have to throw you in the campfire, and that would be a real buzzkill for everyone….but mostly whoever’s in the campfire…

      2. i put the guy from GOProud’s response up on my FB… one “like” no comments… but, at least ten of my friends put how “courageous” it was of Obama to take a stand on the issue

        1. Very courageous, to wrap a statement that he will do nothing to advance gay marriages in “just so” stories about how its all so deeply, deeply personal to him.

  2. RW MEME UPDATE ALERT !11!1!!1

    *muslim gangster terrorist kenyan w teh [GAYZ]*

    >do NOT repeat the mistake of not publishing the TP update like when the RW flat-earthers cancelled climate change but forgot to notify concerned parties & animals who forgot to migrate

    1. Thanks for continuing to share your unique brand of stupid with us, Urine. And, in this case, your incomprehensible, uique brand of stupid.

      1. Now that it’s confined to one easily-filterable name, I don’t care anymore.

        1. u cared? ahh how sweet :>)) xoxoxox

    2. Where’s Alack the Retard Whisperer when you need him

  3. I think also Obama did this because he figures anyone who would be against him for his (tepid) support of gay marriage probably wasn’t going to vote for him anyway.

    1. Uh, black Christians?

      1. Not to mention most union workers.

        1. It depends on which union.

          If you mean the “old” unions like the buiding trades (carpenters, ironworkers) and traditional industrial (auto workers, steel workers) unions I’d say yes. And Obama’s thoroughly pissed off the building trades over Keystone so he will lose vores their anyway. The bailout means he still has the UAW in his pocket, though.

          But the thing about the “old” unions is that while the leadership is solidly Team Blue the rank-and-file are ticket splitters.

          On the other hand the “new” unions like AFSCME, NEA, SEIU and UFCW basically exist as wholly owned subsidiaries of Democrat Inc and both the rank-and-file and the leadership will vote straight ticket Team Blue.

          Note: “old” and “new” don’t refer to age, most of these unions have been around about the same amount of time. The difference is the “old” unions are losing members whereas the “new” unions are growing. Also the “old” unions tend to be male dominated while the “new” unions contain large numbers of females.

      2. Will hold their nose and vote for him anyway.

      3. I hate to be that guy, but do you really see black voters voting for anyone else? I don’t.

        1. All they have to do is stay home.

          1. Yeah, not seeing that happening either.

            1. There’s a tiny sliver of blacks who vote Other Than Democrat, but according to Tony, pointing that out is raaaaacist.

  4. naked political hypocrisy. Period. It’s nothing new, of course, but what is sad is the refusal of Obama’s dogwashers to see “the decision” for the naked bit of political expedience and leading from behind that it is. You just can’t argue with idiots.

    1. “Obama’s dogwashers”

      You sure you want to use a dog-related comparison?

      1. If you don’t wash them, you can taste the dirt in the dish later on.

  5. I don’t give a fuck about this. I’m voting for myself for President, and in Almanian’s Administration, teh fedrul gummint has nothing to do with marriage, so we won’t even be discussing it.

    We WILL be discussing topics that are actually important, like how we get real Jarts Brand(tm) lawn darts back on to store shelves in the USofA.

    1. Lawn darts? You’ve got my vote.

      Unless someone persuades me with something shinier.

    2. You know you can buy the components and assemble them yourself, right? It’s just a completed, fully assembled lawn dart that can’t be sold.

      1. But they can be bartered, T.

  6. or because Biden’s comments forced his hand

    Seems more likely to me that Biden’s unauthorized remark was probably entirely authorized.

    It was probably a trial balloon.

    It’d be nice to think the president had a change of heart and made this change in his position purely out of principle…

    I think it more likely that Biden’s accidental remarks were staged.

    1. First and only thought when Biden did it–this is a trial balloon.

      1. and it’s absolutely infuriating to watch all the pundits ring their hands and gaze at their navels about Joe going off the reservation or some such nonsense. I’m not sure which bothers me more – the obvious contempt with which the media views the public, or the public’s stupidity in swallowing this stuff.

    2. I agree that this was the case, but Biden is so wacky and unscripted, it could have been an accident.

    3. Seems more likely to me that Biden’s unauthorized remark was probably entirely authorized.

      The reporting I’ve seen suggests that the president had planned to announce his new position in the summer; then Biden opened his mouth and the schedule got scrambled.

      1. Jake Tapper was talking about this last night, and he thinks that this wasn’t a planned move by the administration, due to their defensiveness in the press conferences after Biden opened his mouth.

        It’s all just speculation, of course, but this administration has such a well-known habit of their members floating “trial balloons” to gauge public opinion that it’s hard to take all this as anything more than kabuki theater.

        The bottom line is that regardless of his motivations no one, right or left, really believed Obama when he said during 2008 that he didn’t believe in gay marraige. Given that he waited until 2012 to make this announcement, even if one thinks he did the right thing, it’s hard not to view this cynically.

        1. I’m sure it took a lot of soul searching. A lot of sleepless nights.

          But, you know? Obama’s the kind of president who can be reasoned with. So Biden reasoned with him.

          And the president cares about people. That’s what the final decision was about…

          Obama cares about people.

  7. I don’t think this is a victory at all. Obama’s desperately fanning the flames of culture war and trying to get some of the base to cough up more money. As usual, he does nothing but utter some totally meaningless words to do so.

    Not only does deferring to the states prove that he doesn’t give a shit (not that I personally advocate federal intervention here), it’s also not that distant from the position of many Republicans.

    And, of course, it’s all ghafla, as Obama has to focus on every issue but the real ones–an out-of-control government and a host economy weakened enormously by the government parasite.

    1. OTOH, he took all the sting out of losing to an epic mullet.

      I’m thinking Romney’s folks should start letting the back half of his hair lengthen and see if the mullet drives polls.

    2. “deferring to the states prove[s] that he doesn’t give a shit”

      In the minds of the gay-rights crowd, federalism is a bigoted position – “OMG you put our fundamental rights up for a *vote*?”

      Anything short of complete capitulation = bigotry, unless of ocurse Obama does it, because he’s so dreamy.

      1. Not only did he do nothing, he basically is endorsing the fall-back position of gay marriage opponents. What courage.

        1. I notice that Gary Johnson is all over this – he champions gay marriage as an constitutional right which overrules federalism.

          I presume, then, that the gay rights folks will vote for Johnson.

          Or maybe they think Obama’s excellent economic record outweighs his “bigotry” on gay rights.

  8. i’m still just so siked he espoused federalism.

    the money-in-politics is icing on the cake.

    1. Federalism doesn’t work as well with marriage because many legitimate federal responsibilities like immigration, and access to programs like Social Security, etc. are connected to marriage but not related to state laws. The federal government, funded by taxes from everyone, shouldn’t restrict access to federal money/protection/etc. only to people in certain states based upon something as baseless as that state’s acceptance of their marital status.

      It’s gotta be either yes or no at the Federal level.

      1. And I’m ok with yes or no at the Federal level, as long as they apply to EVERYONE.

      2. It works just fine with marriage on a state-by-state basis, however.

        1. It really doesn’t.

          “Nor shall any State…deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws” is pretty clear to me.

          1. Equal protection meaning that, within the State, each citizen shall be treated the same. No gay marriages are recognized in the State of Jesusonia, and that’s equally applied.

            1. Loving v. Virginia’s interpretation of the 14th Amendment disagrees with you.

              By your logic, a state could say not recognizing interracial marriages is consistently applied to all citizens. And “separate but equal” as well, which is what the whole civil unions farce is.

        2. Not really. Marriage is one of those cases where states should be required to recognize the ones conducted in other states due to the Privileges and Immunities clause. It would be ridiculous for my wife to lose the ability to make medical decisions on my behalf if I were to get into an accident while we are on vacation.

          1. Yeah or you have to plan your cross country trip so you drive straight through Utah so you don’t have to get separate rooms in Salt Lake City.

            Actually, I don’t know why I picked on Utah. Florida actually has a law on the books that unmarried couples can’t live together while, to the best of my knowledge, Utah doesn’t.

            I guess it’s just fun to slag on the Mormons.

          2. Whether you can have a federalist system with different States recognizing different marriages is a different thing than whether you SHOULD. Proprietist said that federalism doesn’t “work” with marriage. Well, yes, it can and does, and it’s doing so right now. Whether that should be the case is a different argument.

            1. It’s not doing so right now. Even if you move to Massachussetts, your husband can’t immigate via spousal visa. Thus the federal government has a definition of marriage that conflicts with the state law today. Same applies Social Security or VA benefits, federal tax code, etc.

              However, the federal government should not apply federal law based upon the laws of 50 states. This would be unfeasible to constantly monitor changes to state marriage codes and change applications of federal benefits, immigrations, taxes, etc based upon that. The Federal Government should have a consistent definition of marriage that complies with the 14th Amendment, or should not define marriage at all. Of course, the 14th Amendment applies equal protections to states as well, so all states should be forced to recognize gay marriage as well if they recognize marriage at all.

              1. However, the federal government should not apply federal law based upon the laws of 50 states. This would be unfeasible to constantly monitor changes to state marriage codes and change applications of federal benefits, immigrations, taxes, etc based upon that.

                Yet businesses are expected to do exactly that (comply with all 50 state laws, monitor changes, etc.).

                1. And I’m not defending that, by any means…especially on things like health insurance, where federal bans on cross-state insurance purchasing are merely driving up the cost of health insurance administration. In this case, the problem might still exist in a federalist system as well if the Maryland state law blocks residents and hospitals from buying/accepting competitive out of state insurance.

                  1. IIANM the bans on cross-state insurance purchasing are not actually federal laws.

                    They are a consequence of state government regulation of the insurance industry.

                    State insurance regulations prohibit the sale of insurance to any resident of or company in a state by any company that is not licensed to sell insurance in that state.

                    Now AFAIK, the state laws are a consequence of the federal government exempting insurance companies from antitrust laws and other federal regulations but the exact mechanics are more work than I’m willing to study up on.

            2. As Proprietist says below, no you really can’t. The federal government doesn’t actually recognize a federalist marriage system. Additionally, I do not see how a practical federalist marriage system works if straight couples have their marriages (and divorces) recognized in other states, but same sex couples don’t. If it was a workable solution, rather than a rear guard action by the Maggie Gallagher types, why didn’t states decline to recognize divorces conducted in other states with more liberal divorce laws?

  9. At any rate, with gay marriage the most important battleground has always been the culture, not the government. The shift in the president’s public position might not change the law of the land, but it’s a high-profile moment in the culture war.

    So even though it’s obvious pandering during an election year, demonstrating that it’s politicians who follow the herd and not vice versa, and it will have zero effect on policy, nevertheless this cynical and symbolic gesture is a high-profile moment in the culture war? Only in the sense that we get to see the president perfectly clearly for what he is: a demagogue devoid of principle.

    1. it’s politicians who follow the herd and not vice versa

      That is how high-profile moments in a culture war often work.

  10. Glenn Greenwald needs to have a drink and calm down.

    Sometimes life gives you a choice between drone strikes in Pakistan and outright war with Iran. He’s almost as idealistic as a libertarian sometimes. A man with a widely-read blog may be able to have an influence by standing on principle, but the average voter only has a choice between two imperfect options.

    I don’t know a single Obama supporter who supports him blindly–at least not as blindly as talk radio sheep hate him.

    1. You need to get out more then. I would say almost 90% of the Dem friends I have support him blindly – if (as with your drone strike analogy) blind devotion is displayed by idiotically agreeing with positions that they would have been (and in many cases, were) screaming wildly about had the last President taken them.

      And the average voter does have alternate choices, as perhaps you yourself might have discovered by reading, say, this board.

      1. And I would like to premptively apologize profusely to anyone trying to diagram that last comment.

        1. You should have let T o n y ‘ s comment speak for itself. Only a blind partisan could have written it.

      2. No he doesn’t. Unless you would like to be the first to take me up on my $10,000 wager that the next POTUS will be either a Republican or a Democrat.

        1. That the alternate choices are unlikely to win does not make somehow make them not choices.

        2. IIRC, Tony lives in Oklahoma, arguably the Reddest state in the U.S. So, by the don’t waste your vote logic, Tony should vote for Romney, because voting for anyone else would be throwing his vote away on a candidate with zero chance of capturing OK’s electoral college votes.

    2. Your “choice” is the same old illogical argument about why one must vote within the bounds of the two party system. I’ll choose someone who best complies with my views, not which major party is the lesser of two evils. If everyone did this, we’d have a better system.

  11. Sounds like a pretty good plan to me dude. Wow.

    http://www.Best-Privacy.tk

  12. and (especially) rich gay funders undoubtedly played a significant role….

    I don’t buy it.

    Obama did it to pick up middle-of-the-roaders (sometimes read: liberaltarians) who supported gay marriage but were on the fence about Obama and Romney on other issues like the economy.

    The idea that gay activists and wealthy gay donors were going to withhold their vote or their money has been demonstrated to be utterly false.

    Obamas base, which largely includes gay voters were going to pull the lever for Obama, period, the end, no further discussion necessary. If you were for gay marriage and it was a primary issue for you, voting for Romney was dead end.

    If you’re a red-state so-con, Obama was never going to get your vote anyway, stance on gay marriage be damned.

    This is a strategic move by Obama to shave off wobbly Romney voters for whom gay marriage is in a cloud of ideals that might tip an election if it’s close.

    Pressure, money, activism blah blah blah. It’s all noise. Committed voters were already committed, and committed gays were voting Obama anyway. He didn’t add a single gay activist who was pressuring him. Not one. For the activists, it was a purely emotional ride, nothing else. Andrew Sullivan admitted as much on NPR last night.

  13. Anybody else wondered what Applejack’s sexual orientation is and whether she’ll still vote for the Republicans?

    There. A sensible issue to discuss for once.

    1. If anypony is gay, it’s Rainbow Dash.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.