Millennium Post

Obama gambles on gay marriage

US President Barack Obama has taken a calculated gamble and has stepped into the political unknown with his firm public backing for gay marriage. Obama’s move made public, in an interview with ABC News, sent seismic waves through pre-election politics and sparked speculation as to whether he had hindered his chances of winning a second term. But it also led his election foe Mitt Romney and his Republicans onto tricky ground, as the party’s social conservative base opposes same sex marriage, even as it becomes quickly more accepted across the broader political spectrum.

‘It is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,’ Obama said, unveiling his bombshell.

Obama has now abandoned the sheltered but increasingly untenable position that he was ‘evolving’ on gay marriage. The risks are clear, and dictated Obama’s previous stance, despite fierce pressure for a more unequivocal stance from Obama’s liberal base.

The sudden injection of a divisive moral-social question could hit Obama’s prospects in battleground states. He has always had trouble connecting with white, blue collar, socially conservative swing voters, and this move will hardly help. Some observers feel Obama could face a backlash from religious Hispanic and African-American voters, who helped sweep him into the White House in 2008.

‘There may be a few white, religious Democrats whom he could lose in Ohio,’ said Professor Paul Beck of Ohio State University. Democrats shudder when they recall how ballot initiatives in swing states on social issues drove up Republican turnout in 2004 and helped defeat their presidential candidate John Kerry. Dennis Goldford, a professor of political science at Drake University, Iowa, suggested Obama’s decision reflected an ‘electoral and strategic calculation.’ Democrats are more likely to favour gay rights, and those who most oppose the concept tend to be conservatives who would never vote for Obama anyway, he said.

It is just possible that Obama has pulled off a political masterstroke, and decided to ride changing attitudes just at the right moment. As another senior official explained, public perceptions on gay marriage are changing more quickly than almost any other political issue in America. More people are coming into contact with families with single sex parents - a point Obama made in his interview. The decision was greeted with joy in the gay and lesbian community and is certain to fire up Obama’s political base, and give younger supporters seen as less energised than in 2008 a jolt.

One more question about Obama’s move was: Why now? He seems to have been pushed by Vice President Joe Biden, ho said on NBC that he was ‘absolutely comfortable’ with same-sex marriage. A senior Obama official said that though Biden’s move had advanced the process, the President had already concluded that he had to come out for gay marriage before the Democratic National Convention.

The official also used the issue to draw a sharp contrast with Romney, who the Obama camp has been portraying as extreme in a bid to limit his appeal to the key political middle. He noted that Obama now favoured gay marriage while Romney wanted to enshrine discrimination with a federal amendment to the US Constitution to ban it.

‘I believe marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman,’ Romney said. ‘I know other people have differing views, and this is a tender and sensitive topic.’ 
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