Obama’s Gay-Marriage Evolution, at Last

Forget what the pundits say about possible political fallout -- his announcement was necessary.

Robin Roberts interviews Obama for ABC. (Getty Images)
Robin Roberts interviews Obama for ABC. (Getty Images)

In many ways, North Carolina’s gay-marriage debate reflects the demographic shifts under way in the state and across the South. These shifts are driven by an infusion of young, educated white and black professionals and Latinos — the majority (pdf) of whom support gay marriage — who aren’t necessarily beholden to the region’s old ways. This disparate group is a key part of Obama’s progressive base. So his public evolution on gay marriage may actually prove to be a success.

Obama’s Christianity may have factored into how long he took to firm his stance on gay marriage. So may his campaign handlers’ fear of alienating socially conservative blacks, particularly ministers, who will be needed to energize voters, especially in North Carolina, Florida and Virginia. Polls that campaign strategists swear by support this argument.

But don’t believe the hype about pervasive black homophobia. Numbers don’t always tell a complete story. Consider the black Indiana mother who gave her son a stun gun to protect himself against bullies.

Then there are modern black voices like that of Cory Booker, who, in response to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s suggestion for a gay-marriage ballot measure, offered this: “No minority should have their rights subject to the passions and sentiment of the majority. This is a fundamental bedrock of what our nation stands for.” Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, North Carolina’s NAACP chief, the Rev. William Barber, told reporters that the measure was an “appalling human document.”

The idea that it’s a political mistake for Obama to deliver an honest, conclusive argument on gay marriage is as silly as the prevailing view that he can’t talk candidly about race — because, well, we’re post-racial, and in polite society, let’s just overlook the fact that a black guy’s living in the White House.

Demography, and history, will deal with North Carolina and other states that have made gay marriage illegal. It’s debatable whether government belongs in the marriage business. The truth is, not every gay person wants to marry. But I’m betting that the country that elected Barack Obama president is smart enough to handle forward-looking leadership on gay marriage — and, simply, equality for all citizens.

It’s tragic when a leader appeases too much in the face of what history and his own personal narrative indicate is right. America doesn’t need a safe president. It needs one who is unafraid to say exactly what he believes, and why. Finally, and thankfully, this November we’ll choose between two candidates whose view of equality couldn’t be clearer.

Steven Gray is a contributing editor to The Root. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

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