by Tina Phillips
June 2, 2011
Previously published in The Pioneer
He was for it before he was against it. Back in 1996, when he was running for the Illinois State Senate, Barack Obama answered a 1996 Outlines newspaper question by saying, "I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages." In 2008, he said he was a "fierce advocate" for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. Fast forward to 2011, and he says he is against it but that his opinion is "evolving." What is that supposed to mean?
Well, first off it sounds like he is trying to get re-elected. It appears he does what many politicians do; change their positions depending on the electorate's whims. But also it sounds like he is in the same place many of Americans seems to be in. Americans are "evolving" in their view and attitudes about same-sex marriage.
Several polls have now shown country wide support for it is above 50%. Although 28 states have constitutional amendments or initiatives that define marriage as "the union of a man and a woman" and the federal government will still not recognize it, same-sex marriage is still a hot topic of debate.
The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), signed into law by president Clinton in 1996, is still on the books. However, recently the Obama Administration has come out publicly in opposition to it, calling it "unconstitutional." However, there is no current federal legislation being considered to overturn the law. Obama's position remains that DOMA should be overturned and the decision to allow same-sex marriage should be left to the states. He has come out in favor of civil unions, but not marriage equality.
Meanwhile this issue is being fought state by state. Here in California we saw the Supreme Court recognize same-sex couples’ constitutional right to marry under article 14, the equal protection clause of the constitution. Only to see it taken away again, when Prop 8 won by a small margin of only 3% of voters in 2008. Then in 2010 a decision by the U.S. District Court in Perry v. Schwarzenegger ruled Proposition 8 unconstitutional and it has been tied up in court ever since on appeal. It was as if my right to marry got lost in a black hole.
I will not pretend I have no stake in the outcome. As a gay person who has been with my loving partner for five years, I am ready to get married. I could have a ceremony in front of all of my friends and family, say I "do" and hear the words "spouses for life," have a first dance, cut a cake, throw a bouquet, and go on a honeymoon, but I cannot get a piece of paper that gives me all the legal protections that come with marriage. I cannot get the title and status of being married in the eyes of the law. I do not need the government to recognize my marriage in order to feel like I am married. However, as a gay person it feels like what I am being told is I am a second class citizen. In California there is a civil union for me and a marriage for heterosexual person. I may have to hire and pay a lawyer to draw up several contracts to give my wife and I the protections an opposite-sex couple can get after one night in Las Vegas.
Civil rights should never be put up for a popular vote. Courts are charged with protecting minority rights against majority tyranny. That is what courts have done in the past for many minortity groups, including for interracial couples who wanted to marry in 1967, even when the majority of Americans had not quite caught up in the social views yet. However, the court process has been slow and cumbersome in regard to this issue. Moreover, to date there have only been five states that recognize same-sex marriage: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, and New Hampshire.
However, slowly Americans themselves are coming to realize that gay people are people too. As more and more LGBT come out, more people can now say they know someone who is LGBT. As we share our stories, folks are realizing we have partners, children, and families. Whether straight people support same-sex marriage or not, many are deciding it is not their decision to make. The decision should belong to same-sex couples.
It was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, "the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice." As a gay person I can see it bending but waiting for it to reach justice is painfully slow. I can see that someday soon LGBT people will be able to get civilly married but why should we have to wait any longer? The time has come for the U.S. Supreme Court to put this issue to rest once and for all. The time has come for you, President Obama, to evolve. We should not have to wait any longer for our rights as citizens and fellow human beings to be recognized. I demand the freedom to marry, now.