Should Obama Endorse Gay Marriage?

Doing so before the election has some risks, but it could help re-energize segments of his base.

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Getty Images

With President Obama’s sights set on his re-election, some decisions must be made about how the campaign can re-energize his base.

One segment, the gay community and their allies, has been frustrated with Obama and his “evolving” (at a snail’s pace) stance on marriage equality. While the administration made good on its campaign promise on important issues such as the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” failing to support full marriage rights for gay couples is still a sticking point.

Since the economy is the most important issue of this election cycle, wedge issues such as gay rights may take a backseat to jobs. But the public’s view of marriage equality may not actually have the negative impact that the Obama administration fears. Public opinion on the issue is heavily in favor of equal rights for gay citizens and could give Obama the political cover necessary to come out publicly in support of marriage equality.

If President Obama expressed support for marriage equality before the 2012 elections, there would be both benefits and risks. He would surely excite some of his supporters, especially those who feel that he too often shies away from bold stances in favor of measured pragmatism and common ground. On the other hand, some voters who support Obama but still oppose marriage equality may abandon the president over this issue. That leaves the president with two choices: Endorse marriage equality now or wait and play it safe until he is re-elected.

There are recent signs that the administration’s position is evolving. Just last month, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan came out in support of marriage equality. In an interview with Metro Weekly, Donovan said that he “absolutely” endorsed same-sex marriage.

Then there was the monumental speech by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in which she stated emphatically that “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights” — a line that surely got preapproval from the White House, which knew that such a speech would make headlines worldwide. It seems that President Obama’s administration is signaling that his personal evolution just might be complete, but the question is, will he admit it before November?