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Obama Makes History on Same-Sex Marriage

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Obama coming out for marriage equality today was obviously the right thing on the merits.  But will it hurt him politically?   I argue that 1)such claims are extremely implausible, and 2)arguments that same-sex marriage cost the Democrats in 2004 are empirically wrong:

But I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that Obama doing the right thing today will help Romney in November. It’s important to remember that Obama and Romney were substantially different on gay and lesbian rights before this afternoon. To believe that Romney will benefit significantly from Obama’s embrace of same-sex marriage rights, you would have to believe that there’s a group of voters who 1) care enough about same-sex marriage to make it their top priority in a federal election, but 2) are willing to ignore Obama’s pro-LBGT rights record as long as he doesn’t nominally support same-sex marriage. The number of people who fit into this class is too trivial to be worth worrying about. It’s likely that some-risk adverse advisers cited the argument that same-sex marriage cost John Kerry the election in 2004. But there’s no evidence that this is true. Given that same-sex marriage is significantly more popular now than it was eight years ago, it’s even more unlikely that same-sex marriage would damage Obama now.

And, to reiterate, I don’t mean this as a criticism of Obama.  Whatever the effects of Obama’s position-taking. what motivated him to do so is beside the point.

See also E.J. Graff, Greg Sargent, and Ed Kilgore. Benen has a video excerpt.

…see also Bazelon and Cohn.

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  • Katya

    I just saw one poll (discussed on DailyKos) that reported that most people who oppose same-sex marriage already thought Obama supported it. So it’s pretty unlikely that this will change anything.

  • A President’s position on an issue like this is pretty irrelevant: people will have made up their minds based on their friends and neighbors and whatever moral teachings they learned.

    But I have to take issue with the claim this issue did not hurt Dems in 2004. It did, if only as it irritated and frightened enough of the radical right wing base who may have been wishy-washy about Bush (remember, he was still polling well below 50%) but who they needed to get out and vote.

    • Spud

      But I have to take issue with the claim this issue did not hurt Dems in 2004. It did, if only as it irritated and frightened enough of the radical right wing base who may have been wishy-washy about Bush (remember, he was still polling well below 50%) but who they needed to get out and vote.

      It is a stupid claim. Few people if any knew what either candidate in 2004 had to say on the subject. It was a very very minor issue among them.

      Kerry doomed himself by being a one-note candidate. Like with Gore in 2000, the race would not have been so close had the Democratic candidate been stronger on their own merits.

      Railing against the war in 2004 was admirable but he really didn’t have anything to offer beyond “Bush lied, people died”. It was all well and good, but American people weren’t too thrilled in large numbers at the prospect of running away from Iraq at that time.

      As for Obama, ABOUT FUCKING TIME!!

      • david mizner

        Well, the claim — which the piece Scott linked to pretty well debunks — is that the anti-gay rights referendums boosted turnout among social conservatives in Ohio and elsewhere. So this is different in any case, a president’s position.

      • Marc

        Some of us worked in Ohio in 2004. The “argument” in the post is pathetically weak: Kerry improved on the Gore 2000 performance, thus the gay marriage vote couldn’t have mattered. If this is what counts as a strong case I’d hate to see a weak one.

        Kerry poured resources into Ohio. Gore abandoned Ohio at the end. (Again, the folks here have memories.) Religious conservatives got a tremendous turn out the vote effort that overwhelmed it. Now it may have been a coincidence that the anti-gay marriage initiative dovetailed exactly with massive increases in rural republican margins. But it sure runs counter to what we got as feedback in thousands of calls, from canvassers, and in the election returns.

        The public has changed, and that’s great. But bigotry can pay at the ballot box, and pretending otherwise is wishful thinking.

        • Scott Lemieux

          That’s not the only argument made by the papers — they look at the mobilization by both sides — but the problem is that states that had marriage initiatives didn’t have higher turnouts than states that did. Random anecdotes aren’t actually evidence of anything.

          • Ben

            Has anyone mentioned yet that Kerry outperformed the structural models of election results? Now’d be a good time to mention that, I think.

            I haven’t seen state-by-state breakdowns of structural model predictions versus Kerry’s actual vote total, but the fact that Kerry got more votes overall than structural factors can account for is I think at least as relevant as “we got thousands of calls”.

          • Marc

            The parties absolutely carpet-bombed Ohio in 2004 (and 2008). Not so much in 2000, by the way. Turnout has a great deal to do with things like that. If a state wasn’t competitive the ads and organizers weren’t there – and of course the turnout would not be increased. A proper experiment involves proper controls for things like that, and I’m not seeing these things in the parts that I’m reading. Are they there?

            • Scott Lemieux

              If the parties “carpet bombed” Ohio, the fact that turnout wasn’t unusually high there is even more damning for your thesis.

    • UserGoogol

      My understanding is that the relationship between approval rating on election day and popular vote is such that incumbents outperform their approval by just enough that someone with 49% approval or whatever can still be reelected most of the time. People’s standards for “approval” seem slightly different from their standards for voting for someone.

      Obviously Bush’s support in 2004 wasn’t that strong, but that’s evidenced more directly by the fact that he only got 52% of the vote.

  • david mizner

    Maybe not, but I still think the politics of this are thorny enough as to make Obama’s decision a bold one. Even given the prospect of headaches at the DNC and objections from funders, I bet his political team isn’t behind this decision 100 percent.

    Excellent use of the…bully pulpit.

    • Malaclypse

      It will make a good test case of the thesis, yes.

      I expect Utah to change their collective mind any moment now.

      • Lack of immediate impact not withstanding, I think it’s a fairly big deal because, for all intents and purposes, it formalizes that one of the two major national parties is explicitly in favor of marriage equality and furthering gay rights in general.

    • joe from Lowell

      This is important, but as a sign of where we are, not as a driver of events.

    • Ed

      There is indeed some risk to Obama and it did take some nerve to do this (even if he really couldn’t come out with the “evolving” stuff again and not look silly at the least). I think Biden is the one who should probably get the big boldface thank-you, however.

      • david mizner

        I didn’t expect him to do this. I can quibble with the timing — the day after NC — and yes, the alternative was looking more untenable but take a step back: the man just backed gay marriage in the middle of a presidential campaign.

      • joe from Lowell

        I think Biden is the one who should probably get the big boldface thank-you, however.

        My nose tells me this wasn’t Biden shooting his mouth off on his own. I think they’re getting all the mileage they can out of the “gaffe machine” image.

        • Yossarian

          I think we’re imposing too much 11-dimensional chess on this one. It occurred to me that Biden’s comments might have been rehearsed, until I read the transcript of Jay Carney’s White House press briefing after being asked about it. To put it bluntly, it was a mess — he was clearly caught off-guard and didn’t prep a useful response.

          • Incontinentia Buttocks

            You are not a sufficiently skillful 11-dimensional chess player! Remember that the Geithner appointment and the Cat Food Commission were just elaborate subterfuges to hide the President’s essential hostility to austerity measures.

            Don’t you think it would have been a bit obvious for Jay Carney to have looked prepared?

        • Ed

          My nose and what I’m reading about the course of events tell me otherwise. And if Biden was indeed setting aloft a trial balloon on his boss’ behalf, it backfired big time.

  • R Johnston

    Meh. The position Obama took today is the “moderate,” “centrist” postition. Gay marriage should be allowed, but not if that means overriding state whims and popular votes. The correct position is that marriage equality is a fundamental right. The correct position isn’t particularlly more politically difficult than the “moderate” position at this point in time, but you can’t punch hippies if you take the correct position.

    I fully expect Obama to whine about how those evil liberals aren’t satisfied with him saying that he personally supports gay marriage but that the issue should still be put up to a vote.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Actually, he didn’t say the issue should be “put up for a vote.” I didn’t notice him saying that same-sex marriage was illegitimate in Massachusetts or Iowa. And there’s nothing “moderate” or “centrist” about this position leaving aside the fact that the justices he appointed will support a fundamental right to marriage equality and he will support such a decision if it comes down.

      • Richard

        Agreed. He did NOT say that it should be up to the voters in a state. He said that gays should be able to get married. No caveats attached.

        • Holden Pattern

          I guess I’m confused, then. Because the reporting also says that “he thinks it’s an issue for the states to decide” which says pretty clearly that “It’s up to the voters in the state”.

          Maybe the full interview, when it’s released, will shed more light, but “I personally think that something should be possible, but hey, it’s up to the states” is not the same as “It’s a fundamental right that shouldn’t be put up for a vote.”

          • joe from Lowell

            Because the reporting also says that “he thinks it’s an issue for the states to decide” which says pretty clearly that “It’s up to the voters in the state”.

            Massachusetts decided as a state, but through the courts. I don’t see where “the states” automatically means “the voters in the states.”

            The states and the people have always been distinguished in our politics, like in the 10th Amendment.

            • Holden Pattern

              Oh, good Christ on a Crutch. MA decided it in the courts, so did IA and CT. Most other states have decided it through plebiscite, and a couple through the legislature.

              So saying “let’s leave it up to the states” pretty clearly doesn’t mean “let’s leave it up to the courts in those states BUT NOT THE VOTERS!” It also pretty clearly can’t mean “I think this is a fundamental right that shouldn’t be put up to a vote.”

              He gets credit for finally coming around to the just position, but if one thinks this is a fundamental right, now is not the time to just give the candidate an attaboy and stop pushing.

              • joe from Lowell

                MA decided it in the courts, so did IA and CT. Most other states have decided it through plebiscite, and a couple through the legislature.

                So, in other words, “decided by the states” does not, in fact, necessarily mean “decided by the voters.” Like I said.

                So saying “let’s leave it up to the states” pretty clearly doesn’t mean “let’s leave it up to the courts in those states BUT NOT THE VOTERS!” It also pretty clearly can’t mean “I think this is a fundamental right that shouldn’t be put up to a vote.”

                Because you said so loudly? Because the own-goal in your first paragraph certainly doesn’t demonstrate or prove your claim.

                but if one thinks this is a fundamental right, now is not the time to just give the candidate an attaboy and stop pushing.

                Ah. So now we see where this insistence on reading “the voters” into his statement comes from: you’re looking for an excuse for this “pushing.”

          • djw

            “he thinks it’s an issue for the states to decide” which says pretty clearly that “It’s up to the voters in the state”

            That’s nonsense. States have all kinds of different political decision making processes. Referendum is just one of them. He didn’t single out any one political process as more legitimate than others.

        • david mizner

          Well, there’s this:

          After Obama’s announcement, Mother Jones’ David Corn spoke with an administration source and asked whether the president recognized gay marriage as a right. The official replied, “He has always said that it is a state issue, and he’s not suggesting changing that. He did did not support the North Carolina amendment, but he’s not saying he will bring up a piece of federal legislation on gay marriage. This is how he feels himself about the issue, and he leaves it to the states.”

          http://www.motherjones.com/authors/adam-serwer

          It’s a bit more Obama-esque that I initially thought.

          • david mizner

            It’s the Dick Cheney position, as Sewer points out.

            • Yossarian

              Well, except for the part where Cheney was the VP candidate for a campaign that supported a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

            • Richard

              I dont think its the Cheney position. I remember Cheny saying that the states should decide but I don’t remember him saying that the states should give the right to marry to gays. If I’m right about that, there’s a big difference in the Cheny positon from the Obama position. Obama stated cleary today, without equvocation, that he believed that gays should be given the right to marry.

              • cer

                In 2009 Cheney did say that “people ought to be free to enter into any kind of union they want” and this year he lobbied Republicans in the Maryland house to support SSM. Nonetheless, Yossarian is right on that Cheney did not make a peep about opposing the Federal Marriage Amendment while he was an officeholder (nor did he ever oppose the gay baiting of his party). Not a profile in courage. His actual position seems to be that he would like his daughter to get married.

                • Hogan

                  In 2009 Cheney did say that “people ought to be free to enter into any kind of union they want”

                  So he came out for card check too? Awesome.

          • Scott Lemieux

            Hell, if our standard is that Obama should be expected to back completely meaningless specific steps, why stop with a non-existent statute when we could get a constitutional amendment? The BULLY PULPIT should get that through Congress in no time!

            • david mizner

              Well, obviously there’s a difference between saying something is a fundamental right and saying, I support it.

      • david mizner

        He’s not saying it “should” be put up for a vote; he’s saying that if it is put up for a vote and voters reject it, that’s legit and legal.

        • joe from Lowell

          Where? Where does he address the voters at all?

          • david mizner

            Obviously leaving it up to the states doesn’t mean leaving up only to state courts. If a state bans gay marriage via court decision, referendum, legislation, or eenie-meenie, the law is legit according to Obama’s position. I still say it’s a bold move because he’s still backing gay marriage — that’s the bottom line — but it’s not as strong as could be.

            • joe from Lowell

              I’m seeing a lot of “obviously” and “pretty clearly.”

              If a state bans gay marriage via court decision, referendum, legislation, or eenie-meenie, the law is legit according to Obama’s position.

              Again, where are you getting this? What are you basing this on?

              It’s not obvious to me. It’s not obvious to Scott. It’s not obvious to DJW.

              • You’ve Been HAD

                Again, where are you getting this? What are you basing this on?

                Perhaps <a href="http://gawker.com/5909002/barack-obamas-bullshit-gay-marriage-announcement#13366064585933

                • djw

                  Nothing in that link supports or even addresses Holden’s claim that Obama’s actually saying that he views plebiscites as the only legitimate path to same sex marriage.

                  As to the strong constitutional position: if that comes about, Obama’s influence on that decision will be through the Supreme Court judges he appoints. My hunch is he’s 2/2 on that front, and that actually coming out and saying it would not help win Kennedy’s vote.

                • joe from Lowell

                  So you’re just the word of a guy who also can’t point to anything for his theory.

                  Sort of like money laundering, except with erroneous reasoning.

      • joe from Lowell

        You know, we don’t have to guess about what “leave this to the states” means. The spokesman tells us right in the quote:

        he’s not saying he will bring up a piece of federal legislation on gay marriage.

        I submit that this is a more plausible reading than the “Oh Good Christ on a Crutch” reading, if only because there is actually something somebody said that can be pointed to as evidence for it.

    • Holden Pattern

      Well, it’s really a matter of taste, isn’t it? And of course, de gustibus non est disputandum.

      At the very least, though, the bigots won’t be able to beat those of us in favor of equality over the head any more with “Even Obama…”

    • joe from Lowell

      Knock me over with a feather.

  • greylocks

    I don’t think this is 11D chess, but I think the O-team knew exactly what they were doing here.

    This gets the base off O’s back. It gets the issue out of the way well ahead of the election so that it’s old news by November and too boring for the Villagers to bring up again in the press. It makes him look like a Courageous Man of Principle, which is always honey to no-information swing voters. And it rather nicely cleans up the messy little turd Uncle Joe dropped on the floor.

    I’m not that smart, and if I can think of all those things, so can the better minds on the O-team.

  • rea

    For crying out loud, of course it’s a state issue! There is no constitutional basis for federalizing domestic relations law. You don’t seriously want to make a federal case out of every divorce, do you?

    State laws dealing with domestic relations issues have to conform to the requirements of the federal constitution–they can’t violate equal protection or deny due process. But, otherwise, they’re state issues.

    • Holden Pattern

      Except, y’know, DOMA. Which to Obama’s credit, Holder is no longer defending.

      • Malaclypse

        But that kind of proves rea’s point. Obama and Holder stopped defending DOMA, because it is such a policy outlier. There is no DOMA equivalent on cousin marriages, or divorce, or age of consent, or anything else.

        • Holden Pattern

          Look, I think this is one area in which the Obama administration has done pretty well — under constant pressure from big donors and vocal advocacy groups, which serves as an interesting object lesson.

          Also, I certainly wasn’t suggesting that Obama introduce federal legislation (or a Constitutional Amendment, what the fuck?) on this matter, and he does get credit for finally taking the just position.

          However, just saying “it’s up to the states” is a copout which assumes the substantive legitimacy of existing voter bigotry as expressed in plebiscite form. Loving v. Virginia says pretty clearly that it’s not an area in which states’ rights are paramount and unchallengeable. States can’t take away fundamental rights even in those area where they traditionally get to legislate.

          He’s not ready to use that language, so fine. But that’s the way that this should be seen, and pressure should still be applied to politicians to get them to say that and act that way.

          • Holden Pattern

            Also, I certainly wasn’t suggesting that Obama introduce federal legislation (or a Constitutional Amendment, what the fuck?) on this matter

            Although advocating the repeal of DOMA would be a humane bare minimum, and I expect that to be the administration’s position.

            • Jessup

              It’s been his postion his entire career. He called DOMA “abhorrent” when he ran for Senate in 2004 and has campaigned for it’s repeal ever since.

          • Malaclypse

            However, just saying “it’s up to the states” is a copout which assumes the substantive legitimacy of existing voter bigotry as expressed in plebiscite form. Loving v. Virginia says pretty clearly that it’s not an area in which states’ rights are paramount and unchallengeable.

            Okay, but Loving v Virginia was a Supreme Court case. Neither Congress nor a President has jurisdiction. Unless you think Congress is going to expand Commerce Clause powers dramatically, and that the Roberts Court will go along.

            • Holden Pattern

              Aaargh! Fine! Bully Pulpit! Green Lanternism!

              Except that oddly, Obama is getting praise here for just saying something from the VERY SAME PEOPLE who say that JUST SAYING SOMETHING DOESN’T MAKE ANY FUCKING DIFFERENCE.

              • Malaclypse

                That was not my point. My point is that rea is completely correct that marriage is something left to the states, except for equal protection, and equal protection violations are the Supreme’s jurisdiction. Obama can’t send the National Guard to force North Carolina county clerks to issue marriage licenses.

                I’m glad he said it. I think saying it advances the cause of justice. It marginally hastens the day that more states, or maybe the Supremes, reach justice. But it can’t change the way marriage is (almost always) left to the states (with very rare exceptions).

                • You’ve Been HAD

                  My point is that rea is completely correct that marriage is something left to the states, except for equal protection, and equal protection violations are the Supreme’s jurisdiction.

                  I wish you felt as passionate about the rights of *all* people….but you don’t. It’s only the identity groups that you support and fuck the rest of ’em.

                • Malaclypse

                  You are not very good at this whole “reading for comprehension” thing, are you?

                • Hogan

                  It’s a work in regress.

    • chris

      State laws dealing with domestic relations issues have to conform to the requirements of the federal constitution–they can’t violate equal protection

      You do know that when courts have struck down opposite-sex-only marriage statutes, equal protection is generally the grounds, right? I mean, in practice, of course state courts have used state equivalents of the equal protection clause rather than the federal one, because their interpretations of their own state constitutions are authoritative in a way that they aren’t if they apply the federal constitution.

      But the only thing keeping the SCOTUS from adopting the CA SC’s reasoning, saying “ditto for the 14th amendment”, and handing down what the history books would obviously describe as the successor to _Loving_ is the number of right-wing hacks on the court that hand the balance of power to Kennedy.

  • M alaclypse

    Charlie Pierce nails it.

    As it happens, of course, I live in the capital of gay marriage, in Massachusetts, where a great lawyer named Mary Bonauto and some brave judges on the Supreme Judicial Court cracked the ice on this issue for good. I can tell you from personal experience that we are a better, fairer Commonwealth than we were before the Goodridge decision was handed down. The president of the United States finally has stepped on that same road, and, at the end of it, a better and fairer country awaits.

    I’m prouder to be driving through this country than I was this morning, that’s for sure.

    Yep.

    • Richard

      Amen. To criticize the President for not supporting a constitutional amendment mandating same sex marriage in every state is so many ways of stupid that I’m astounded. This is a pretty important day in the history of civil rights in this country and for a bunch of commentators here to criticize the President for not going far enough or for making a calculating political decision makes me furious.

      • Uncle Kvetch

        This bit from Pierce is equally quotable:

        I think he made a precise political calculation, that being ahead on this issue will be more beneficial to him going forward than the prolonged exercise in subtlety that had begun to look like dithering.

        • Richard

          You did notice, didn’t you, that Pierce applauded the president and didn’t criticize him? Whether he made a political calculation or not is irrelevant to the point – he deserves massive praise for his statement today, the praise that Pierce gave him and the praise that too many on this site are witholding.

          • Incontinentia Buttocks

            I wouldn’t make this some sort of loyalty test, but, yes, the President deserves praise for this action. And Charlie Pierce is not shy about criticizing Obama when the President doesn’t deserve praise, so his praise is especially significant.

            • Uncle Kvetch

              Precisely, IB.

  • Malaclypse

    These particular tears of wingnuts are a fine vintage.

  • joe from Lowell

    They sure won’t like this in the “real world of Virginia, Macaca.”

    But, then, we’ve learned about how “the real world of Virginia” thing works out in practice.

  • joe from Lowell

    North Carolina was close enough that this could make a difference.

    Virginia isn’t.

    BTW, Virginia voted to ban gay “marriage” in 2006.

    Since 2006, national polling has swung from about 58-38 against to about 49-47 for. Two years before that, the Republican President made an anti-gay marriage amendment the core domestic issue in his reelection campaign, while the gay rights community was proclaiming Howard Dean to be a brave pioneer for supporting civil unions while opposing gay marriage. The situation surrounding gay rights issues changes very quickly.

    But beyond the issue of popularity, there’s the salience of the issue. I seriously doubt many people in Virginia, even people who oppose gay marriage, are going to vote based on gay marriage.

    • chris

      Obama doesn’t need NC. He won last time with almost 100 EV to spare.

      If he holds OH, VA, FL, all of which he carried by 5+ points in 2008 IIRC, Romney is toast.

  • joe from Lowell

    Looks like someone’s decided to start dead-horse-beating trolling.

    And also, Anonymous is leaving comments.

  • Ben

    I just want to note for the record that Greenwald’s response to Obama’s announcement is everything that Scott, Richard, jfL, Mal et al could want.

    When Glenn sucks, he sucks, but he can be dead on too even when few people are.

    • Joe

      I agree except for the gratuitous “nor does it mean he deserves re-election” except if it means that stupid statement that you shouldn’t re-elect him merely on this.

  • scott

    I don’t see what the big deal is. According to Scott, whatever a President says is pretty much irrelevant and never moves anyone one way or the other. Just think of the Presidency like the TV going on in the background while you’re sitting in the waiting room for a doctor’s appointment: mostly inaudible, sometimes annoying, just there without leaving any lasting trace. When you think about it, the fact that these guys want to go out and campaign for the office this year is just flat-out puzzling. So pretty much a non-event, really, what Obama says or doesn’t.

    • T. Paine

      Do you have to work at being unable to understand the argument about this, or does your incomprehension come naturally?

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