The historic statement from President Barack Obama that he supports marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples gave strength and encouragement to Americans across the land who support LGBT justice. Indeed, the statement rang around the world, with LGBT advocates in many countries adding their thanks for the president’s leadership on this issue.
Political analysts are noting the important effect that Catholic Vice President Joseph Biden’s remarks earlier this week had on Obama’s announcement. A Politico.com report entitled “W.H.: Joe Biden forced Obama’s hand on gay marriage” explained:
“For President Barack Obama and his team, the decision to back gay marriage came down to a choice between two unpalatable alternatives: Support it and brave the backlash in battleground states where the issue could be a liability — or keep silent and be accused by allies of gutlessness and putting politics over principle.
“Administration officials said the president planned to announce his support before the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., this September. But they acknowledge that Vice President Joe Biden did, indeed, force their hand.”
An Associated Press story also identifies Biden’s remarks as a precipitating cause for the timing of this announcement:
As told by aides, Obama concluded earlier this year that gay couples should have the legal right to marry and planned to say so before the convention. Speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal White House conversations, they said the White House felt compelled to accelerate its plans after Vice President Joe Biden declared his support for gay marriage on a Sunday morning talk show and said he was “absolutely comfortable” with same-sex couples being legally wed.
“. . . [A]ides said Biden’s comment was impromptu. He taped his appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Friday, and top officials said they and the president were quickly made aware that the vice president went further than Obama ever had on the issue. While officials said Obama was not angry with Biden, he decided that his vice president’s remarks made it difficult to keep his own views private for much longer.”
John Dickerson’s analysis on Slate.com tells the tale most colorfully–and pointedly. Playing on Obama’s long-touted announcement that his position on marriage equality was “evolving,” Dickerson writes:
“Joe Biden has such power over evolution he might make an amoeba get up and walk. Three days ago the vice president announced on Meet the Press that he supported same-sex couples getting married. Wednesday, President Obama announced that after a many-year evolution on the issue, he believed the same thing. The first African-American president became the first ever to announce his support for same-sex marriage. . . .
“This looks like another instance of the vice president stumbling his way into the history books. But Barack Obama’s untenable position is every bit as culpable for the firestorm and rushed decision. The president was for gay marriage in private but wouldn’t say so in public.”
Other analysts have made the point that Obama’s support may not make too much difference, given that people are so entrenched in their postions, pro and con, on marriage equality. But in a blog post, New York Timescolumnist Frank Bruni personally and poignantly touches on the invisible but more powerful impact that Obama’s statement will have:
“Over recent days it has been observed that the president’s position on this [issue of marriage equality] didn’t and wouldn’t make an immediate or enormous difference in the actual law of the land. That remains true. States decide on marriage — as North Carolina did, regressively, on Tuesday — and no signal or word from the president is going to translate into the legalization of same-sex marriage from coast to coast.
“But that doesn’t diminish the emotional importance of what just happened.
“I find myself thinking about all the teenagers and young adults out there who cower in silence because they worry about being ostracized if they speak the truth about their sexual orientation. I think about the ones who are bullied, even the ones who contemplate taking their own lives.
“And I think about what it will mean to them to hear the president say what he did today, not because they’re focused on marriage but because they’re buoyed by any and every reassurance that there’s nothing wrong with them, nothing inferior about them. Today their president gave them that reassurance.
“I think about how it would have felt to me when I was 16, and fearful, and often deeply, deeply depressed, to hear a president say what ours did today. I can’t imagine it. In the three decades since, our country has traveled an enormous distance, and today is a poignant and compelling marker of that.”
Catholic bishops should take heed of Bruni’s testimony: encouraging words from public leaders can have an impact on the self-esteem and lives of LGBT youth everywhere. The opposite, sadly, is also true: disparaging words from public leaders can lead to despair, depression, and death. From Catholic bishops, who seem oblivious to the impact of their language, we have had too much of the latter and precious little of the former.
Whatever happens politically, Obama’s words have already done an immense amount of good. Let’s hope that religious leaders also pay heed to Obama’s explanation during the interview of his faith perspective on marriage equality:
“The thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the golden rule — you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated.And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids, and that’s what motivates me as president.”
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry