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Why Obama’s Secret Feelings About Same-Sex Marriage Don’t Matter

[ 130 ] May 8, 2012 |

To approach the question of principle in political leadership from yet another angle, in light of Biden’s quasi-endorsement of same-sex marriage there’s been a lot of speculation of what Obama “really” thinks about same-sex marriage. I suppose if I had to guess I would say the most likely possibility is that he “really” supports same-sex marriage and isn’t saying so for political reasons, if only because as a northern, generally socially liberal, affluent person with an advanced degree this would be the most common position. (One could also cite his explicit support for it when it was much more cutting-edge in 1996, but again it’s possible that since he wasn’t seeking national office at the time this position-taking was also done for political reasons.)

At any rate, nobody knows what Obama “really” thinks, and it doesn’t matter. What matters is what he’s done policy-wise. Directly on same-sex marriage, where he could affect policy — deciding whether to defend DOMA, making Supreme Court appointments — he’s done what could have reasonably been done. On the related issues of gay and lesbian rights he’s been good but not great; he deserves credit for supporting and contributing to the repeal of DADT, but he deserves criticism (and the resulting denial of funds) for refusing to issue an executive order banning workplace discrimination by federal contractors. I don’t care a great deal about whether Obama explicitly supports same-sex marriage or not because I don’t see any reason to believe that the BULLY PULPIT matters more with respect to same-sex marriage than it does for anything else, but either way he doesn’t get credit for secret feelings; what matters is whether he comes out in favor of SSM (whether motivated by sincere feelings, politics, or both.)

So, again, I don’t see much point in speculating about what Obama “really thinks.” It’s unknowable, presidential goals and preferences can never be divorced from political considerations, and on the issue for better or worse he is what his record says he is.

…see also Hilton.

Comments (130)

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  1. Given the current composition of the Supreme Court, and the state of federalism jurisprudence generally, I’d say that this is an issue that is going to have to be fought on the ground, state by damn state. North Carolina votes today, and it looks like that’s going to go badly.

  2. elm says:

    One reason why knowing he really thinks might matter is for predictive purposes: what is he likely to do in the future? If he really supports SSM, we can be more confident in his future judicial appointments and future policy proposals, executive decisions, and vetoes. If he really opposes it, then we might be less confident.

    His true feelings are largely unknowable, so we have to make judgments based on the evidence if we want to engage in this, but it does highlight a problem raised in the previous thread. I agree compeltely with you that when evaluating how political actors did, motives don’t matter. But when trying to predict what they will do (either for purely speculative purposes or to decide how to vote) motives can matter even if they hard to discern.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      When deciding how to vote, we know enough to know that Obama is far better than his opponent (whatever Romney “really thinks.”) When predicting what he’ll do, I’m not sure knowing how he really feels — even if it was possible — tells us much, because either way there’s no guarantee that he’ll act on his “real beliefs” if he thinks this isn’t politically desirable or viable.

      • elm says:

        Well, yes, on the specific issue at hand, knowing Obama’s feelings is irrelevant. I was raising the more general point of when the motivations of politicians matters. Also, personal feelings certainly aren’t determinative of future behavior, but it’s not unreasonable to assume that it might have some effect, especially in terms of how Obama (or any other politician) might prioritize the many issues they could focus on.

        • elm says:

          And by “specific issue” I mean Obama vs. Romney. In modern American politics, any general election for major office boils down almost entirely to party ID, but what about in primaries? Or in local elections (or non-partisan elections.) Here, knowing motivation would be helpful if dificult to discern.

      • Malaclypse says:

        (whatever Romney “really thinks.”)

        I was attending an LDS Ward back when Romney was Stake President. I was there when he gave a talk describing homosexuality as “an abomination.” He did that shortly after someone in the ward came out as an open celibate gay man.

        Fuck what Romney really thinks.

        • swearyanthony says:

          I am wondering if “Stake President” is some combination of “I am holding the speaking stick” and Buffy.

          This shows the obvious anti-mormon bigotry of the left. Or something.

          • Malaclypse says:

            To translate into Catholic:

            Bishop (LDS) = Priest (Catholic)
            Stake President (LDS) = Bishop (Catholic)

            With the caveat that LDS Bishops/Presidenta must be married, while Cathilics have a differing policy.

            • swearyanthony says:

              I prefer my own interpretation. But thanks for the explanation.

            • Ben says:

              Wait Romney was a “Bishop” in the Mormon Church? Shouldn’t he have left a paper trail about a mile long and two wide filled with horrible stuff he did?

              Is this inaccurate, or did the press already go through this stuff and fine nothing, or am I missing something?

              • Malaclypse says:

                Scott Leigh of the Boston Globe interviewed myself and two others about the abomination incident during his run against Kennedy. It ran, but I can’t find it in their archives.

                More recently, there was this.

                I believe that it is officially uncivil to discuss these things.

                • Ben says:

                  Jesus Christ.

                  Meanwhile dissections of Obama’s girlfriends when he was 22 are all over the national papers.

                • elm says:

                  Obama dissected his girlfriend when he was 22? I hope that would be all over the newspapers! And it might even be the sort of “secret feelings” that all of us, even Scott, could agree was important.

                • Ben says:

                  Very good

                • Pseudonym says:

                  Well I think someone named Treacher mentioned something about Obama devouring the bitches or some such.

              • swearyanthony says:

                There’s been a number of pieces re: baptising holocaust victims and Romney.

        • DrDick says:

          Pretty much my take on it (as I said in the thread on LBJ). It does not matter what politicians personally feel or believe, only what they do and say. I do not know that George Wallace and Ronald Reagan were personally racist, but I do know that they were loathsome human beings who exploited racism and racialist rhetoric for personal gain. I do not know what LBJ’s “feelings” were regarding race, but I know he ramrodded the CRA through Congress. The same applies here.

          • proverbialleadballoon says:

            right on, doctor. money talks and bullshit walks, and it doesn’t matter what obama ‘really thinks’ about same-sex marriage, only what his policies are. has his administration moved the ball forward, repealing dadt, appointing liberal judges to the supreme court, and stopped defending doma? yes. i see this as an attempt to peel off gay men from voting obama in november. there are plenty of successful gay men out there, and especially if they are in a duel-income, no kids situation, pretty well-off. trying to get obama to take the bait, maybe some wealthy gays will change their votes. (and if obama takes the bait in the other direction, maybe peel off some wealthy black votes, the black community largely anti-homosexuality). best if he keeps quiet, and lets his policies speak for themselves.

            • DrDick says:

              Not only are his “feelings” irrelevant, they are essentially unknowable (unless you are much better at mind reading than I am). The only things that matter are what he does and says. I do think that what he says is more important than Scott does (though not enough to change attitudes by itself) in terms of setting the debate and defining the acceptable parameters.

              • proverbialleadballoon says:

                imo, obama has been right in tune setting the debate. his position of ‘evolving’ on the issue jives well with current thought in america. we are slowly but surely moving towards equality, and forcing the issue at this time has more negative effects than positives. it’s only 8 years ago that gay marriage was used as a wedge issue (negatively) in a presidential election. and recently, polls show for the first time more than half of the electorate is pro-gay marriage. we are getting there, in not too long, but today, we’re not quite there.

      • swearyanthony says:

        Assuming that What Obama Really Thinks matters is another aspect of the Great Man Of History school of thought (see also “Bully Pulpit Fallacy”(*)

        Something like the US government is not going to be turned around because actually, Nixon really didn’t hate Jews, he just said that to fit in with his colleagues. (Pick other examples as you see fit)

        When evaluating politicians, I would suggest “what have you done for me lately” is the only metric that makes even the slightest sense.

        (*) aka “Bully Pulpit Phallusy” as my brain wanted to write it.

  3. Joe says:

    most likely possibility is that he “really” supports same-sex marriage and isn’t saying so for political reasons

    Probably so but repeatedly we can’t have an honest discussion about this, including stupid questions regarding how so strange it is that he opposes a state constitutional amendment that would ban same sex marriage-lite in NC when the state already doesn’t allow SSM, while not wanting to say that same sex marriage should be national policy.

    I don’t know how much better Obama could reasonably be on gay and lesbian issues. Ending DADT, fighting DOMA in the courts, Clinton making it an international human rights issue … but but he didn’t sign that executive order. On that level, who has been “great” if that requires everything under the sun, putting aside the political balancing in place?

    People ridicule how he is “evolving” on this issue; they come off as infantile, not realizing how politics works. Even Chris Hayes last night misleadingly cited a 52% positive number. We don’t work on direct democracy here, especially on something often as local as marriage. The fact this nefarious amendment could pass in a state that is pretty sane like NC underlines the limits of such numbers.

  4. Glenn says:

    I fully agree that what he “really” thinks is irrelevant. But while I take your “bully pulpit” point, and typically agree with you in terms of the effectiveness of the bully pulpit in advancing an agenda, I think perhaps you underestimate the damage that is being done to the marriage equality fight by the refusal of (arguably) the most progressive President we’ve had to explicitly support equality. I have no evidence to back that up, of course, but I suspect the “Hey, even Obama doesn’t support it” is doing some harm to the cause.

    On a more blatantly political calculus, though, I also think his inability to articulate an intelligible position on the topic makes him look weak and shifty and threatens to compromise (if only a little bit) one of his greatest strengths vis-a-vis Romney.

    • Uncle Kvetch says:

      I also think his inability to articulate an intelligible position on the topic makes him look weak and shifty and threatens to compromise (if only a little bit) one of his greatest strengths vis-a-vis Romney.

      Exactly. All the dithering and backpedaling and “clarifications” don’t exactly show the campaign in its best light.

      • Uncle Kvetch says:

        But to be clear, I agree with the general thrust of the post.

        I decided to stop trying to peer into the hearts of politicians when Bush and Cheney were in office, and what I saw made me want to claw my eyes out with a rusty garden implement.

      • proverbialleadballoon says:

        i disagree, guys. obama is in a no-win situation, if he clarifies what he ‘really thinks’ on gay marriage. if he comes out for it, he loses wealthy black voters. comes out against it, he loses wealthy gay voters. best to keep doing what he’s been doing, lying low on the issue, and ‘evolving’. the country is slowly but surely moving towards gay equality, but we’re not there yet. forcing the issue (and i believe ‘what he really thinks’ is that he’s pro-gay equality), benefits no one at this moment in time.

        • MAJeff says:

          if he comes out for it, he loses wealthy black voters.

          I just don’t see this. Black elected officials, particularly at the federal level, are more likely to support marriage equality and LGBT rights more generally than are black voters. Doesn’t stop them from getting black voters or endorsements from wealthy black folks.

          I just don’t see black voters (as a group) being driven by this issue, particularly being driven to stay home by it. Ken Hutcherson and Harry Jackson are not all that representative.

    • david mizner says:

      Perhaps, but I don’t think Biden and Arne Duncan are acting out of turn here. I think the White House wants them out there supporting or half-supporting gay marriage to send a message hinting at Obama’s “real” position. I agree with Scott — that on this and every other issue, what he really believes is irrelevant — but part of the Obama long-standing strategy to appeal to liberals has been to hint at the President’s allegedly core liberal beliefs. That, combined with the tendency of people to see what they want to see in him, has many believing he’s much more liberal than his actions indicate.

    • Holden Pattern says:

      Once again, in the California Prop 8 campaign which took away the rights of many of my friends, literally the only completely truthful statement made by the anti-gay lobby was “Even your liberal hero Obama isn’t in favor of gay marriage.” That was a bitter, bitter pill.

      But hey, “Bully Pulpit”! “Green Lanternism”! It doesn’t matter what the leadership says. Except during formal campaign season, when rhetoric suddenly does matter.

      • Tom Hilton says:

        Once again, in the California Prop 8 campaign which took away the rights of many of my friends, literally the only completely truthful statement made by the anti-gay lobby was “Even your liberal hero Obama isn’t in favor of gay marriage.”

        Except that Obama opposed Proposition 8. So, factual? Technically, aybe. Completely truthful? Not so much.

        • david mizner says:

          So?

          The half-truth was made possible by his opposition to gay marriage — which is a rather neat and irrefutable refutation of the claim that what he says can’t affect policy. The effect of the ads — in black communities and elsewhere — was perhaps overstated, but it’s safe to assume there was some effect.

          So to repeat:

          What he really believes doesn’t matter.
          What he says matter, at least a little.

        • Glenn says:

          Yes, but his opposition made absolutely no sense given his position on same-sex marriage. He made some argument about opposing “divisive” laws, etc. But, look, the state of the law in CA (given the CA Supreme Court’s decisions) was that the only way the state (or the people, however you want to look at it) could have what Obama claimed was his desired state of affairs — i.e., robust civil unions but no “marriage” — was to pass Prop 8. It is the perfect example of how Obama’s position on this issue is untenable.

      • Joe says:

        Obama did not support Prop 8. He supported civil unions and a lot of other stuff. Some ‘bitter bitter pill’ … miscreants used some cheap shot.

        What he says (as compared to “feels”) is pretty important. He opposes the NC amendment. He is for the end of DOMA. He is not defending it in court. etc.

        You can tell that when someone talks about him isn’t be “in favor” of same sex marriage, while even then leaving it open. Bitter bitter!

      • joe from Lowell says:

        Except that Obama opposed Proposition 8.

        Nice own-goal.

      • djw says:

        It pisses me off too, but being pissed off isn’t evidence it had any influence on votes.

  5. MAJeff says:

    I agree. The whole “Evolve already” thing is a bit tiresome. What matters is policy, and he’s been fairly good. Not great, but pretty good. A statement of “I support marriage equality” simply won’t have any kind of meaningful effect.

  6. BradP says:

    It’s unknowable, presidential goals and preferences can never be divorced from political considerations, and on the issue for better or worse he is what his record says he is.

    But principles can be held constant in the face of a dynamic political scene.

    We are voting to choose the leader of the free world in very volatile times, and I would like to know where his convictions lie and how strongly he holds them.

    I don’t really care where Obama ranks in the pantheon of presidents, but I care a great deal about what he will do with his second term. So give me some information with predictive value. I don’t think your “beliefs don’t actually matter” argument provides that.

    Perhaps I still misunderstand, though.

    • swearyanthony says:

      See earlier comment. I would strongly suggest “what have you done for me lately” is your only useful metric.

      Anything else is pure wishful thinking.

    • djw says:

      A better predictor of future behavior is past behavior, not his true feelings. But even if the latter were a strong predictor, it would be irrelevant because we can’t know what they are with any confidence.

      • elm says:

        Is past behavior such a good predictor, though, if it is so constrained by the political environment? Can we then predict what future behavior would look like if the environment changed? Although it is hard to know motivations (which I think are more important than ‘feelings’), I think IB raised a good question in the other thread by pointing to the principle vs. self interest dichotomy. If we think they’re motivated by self interest, they’ll adapt to the changing environment and we can predict their actions to the extent we know the environment. If they are motivated by principal, they’ll continue to behave as they had despite the different effects of their behavior.

        Even knowing this little bit is hard, though, especially because in practice most politicians will be motivated by degrees of both. But I think it is an area where if we could know “secret feelings” it would be useful.

      • Murc says:

        A better predictor of future behavior is past behavior, not his true feelings

        Doesn’t using this metric mean that anyone who cared about civil rights should have moved heaven and earth to oppose Lyndon Johnson both in his Presidential bid and in his effort to get on the ticket with Kennedy?

        They would, of course, have been wrong, and possibly disastrous to do so, because Johnsons actual feelings on civil rights, as opposed to his past actions when he was constrained by politics, did matter. They mattered a LOT.

  7. joe from Lowell says:

    (One could also cite his explicit support for it when it was much more cutting-edge in 1996, but again it’s possible that since he wasn’t seeking national office at the time this position-taking was also done for political reasons.)

    In 1996? Howard Dean was sticking his neck way out just to sign a civil unions bill in Vermont after a court order, and that was four years later.

    1996 was when when Clinton ran against Dole. There probably wasn’t a single Congressional district outside of Manhattan and San Francisco in which explicit support for marriage equality would have been anything but a political burden in 1996.

  8. Anonymous says:

    In the vast majority of the world today, homosexuals are, and will continue to be, regarded as unnatural freaks.

    Outside of western Europe and liberal parts of North America (and the former will be changing soon once European politicians have to pander to the Muslim vote) homosexuals are at best regarded as freaks, at worst their activity is illegal.

    Just face it, most people aren’t going to regard the act of shoving an erect cock up another man’s butthole and ejaculating as a loving act.

    I feel sorry for the queers–I really do–they’re under an illusion that this is going to change in the world soon. It’s not. It’s naturally repulsive.

  9. david mizner says:

    It seems to be another position of his causing the most anger among gay rights activists.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/post/top-obama-donors-witholding-money-over-executive-order-punt/2012/05/07/gIQAPKsl8T_blog.html

    Some leading gay and progressive donors are so angry over President Obama’s refusal to sign an executive order barring same sex discrimination by federal contractors that they are refusing to give any more money to the pro-Obama super PAC, a top gay fundraiser’s office tells me. In some cases, I’m told, big donations are being withheld.

    Jonathan Lewis, the gay philanthropist and leading Democratic fundraiser, is one of many gay advocates who has been working behind the scenes to pressure Obama to change his mind. When Obama decided against the executive order last month, arguing that he would pursue a legislative solution instead, advocates were furious — such a solution will never pass Congress, the executive order has been a priority for advocates for years, and the move smacked of a political cave to conservatives who will not support Obama no matter what he does.

    Now these and other donors are beginning to withold money from Priorities USA, the main pro-Obama super PAC, out of dismay over the president’s decision. (Some of these donors have already maxed out to the Obama campaign, I’m told.) It’s the first indication that areas in which Obama is at odds with gay advocates — and in fairness, his record on gay rights has been very good — could dampen overall fundraising.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/post/top-obama-donors-witholding-money-over-executive-order-punt/2012/05/07/gIQAPKsl8T_blog.html

    Prez has been better on LGBT rights than almost any other issue, but activists continue to push him. I mean that as a compliment.

    • joe from Lowell says:

      When Obama decided against the executive order last month, arguing that he would pursue a legislative solution instead, advocates were furious — such a solution will never pass Congress, the executive order has been a priority for advocates for years, and the move smacked of a political cave to conservatives who will not support Obama no matter what he does.

      I have the strangest feeling of deja vu.

      • david mizner says:

        Well, Congress looks a little different now. Anyway, Clinton signed a similar executive order (relating to the federal civilian workforce) that is still in place, having survived two Bush terms.

        • joe from Lowell says:

          Well, Congress looks a little different now.

          But they’re not voting on it “now.” The elections are in November, and then we’ll have a new Congress.

          Anyway, Clinton signed a similar executive order

          1. And here you are, still worrying about the policy, and

          2. Since then, there hasn’t been a serious effort to get the lasting, durable protections provided by passing a bill through Congress, perhaps because the issue went on the back burner once it was “taken care of.”

          Accepting an executive order instead of going for legislation, when it’s very possible that the time is ripe for legislation, is settling. Everyone who was so utterly wrong about the wisdom of the President’s decision to reach for a legislative solution on DADT repeal needs to learn and apply that lesson.

          • david mizner says:

            That executive order, Clinton’s, applied to the federal workforce; this one applies to contractors. I was just bringing it up to show that eo’s can last, and in any case, an eo doesn’t stop Dems from trying to codify the change.

            • joe from Lowell says:

              Gotcha – this isn’t the same as Clinton’s E.O.

              and in any case, an eo doesn’t stop Dems from trying to codify the change.

              Where is the legislation codifying Clinton’s earlier E.O.? “It doesn’t stop them” formally, no, but it does make it much more likely for the issue to fall down the priority list.

          • rea says:

            Obama didn’t have the constitutional power to repeal DADT by executive order, since it had been enacted by statute.

            It is far from clear to me that the President has the constitutional and legal power to impose a nondiscrimination requirement on federal contractors by regulation. I have yet to see anyone make a serious attempt to demonstrate that he does.

            I can’t take seriously the argument, “Obama is no friend to gays–why, he wouldn’t even break the Constitution for us!”

            • Scott Lemieux says:

              It is far from clear to me that the President has the constitutional and legal power to impose a nondiscrimination requirement on federal contractors by regulation.

              Why not? The executive branch controls the disbursement of funds the last I checked. It can’t impose nondiscrimination policies on private employers per se but it can certainly choose not to give discriminatory employers federal contracts.

              • joe from Lowell says:

                Let’s flip the situation around, and see how confident you are:

                Could President Santorum issue an executive order forbidding the federal government from contracting with companies that offer same-sex partner benefits?

                “Why not? The executive branch controls the disbursement of funds the last I checked.”

                Still true?

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  I don’t believe it would be a violation of separation of powers, no. I do think it would violate the 5th Amendment, but that’s a separate issue.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  EEO-1 requirements for federal contractors (and subcontractors, which is huge) were imposed by Executive Order 11246. I’m unsure of the date of the relevant amendment.

                • rea says:

                  I’m no expert on this–but it seems to me that Cogressional spending power controls this, and that the president only has such power to impose contractual terms and conditions as has been explicitly or implicitly granted by Congress.

                  I acknowlege that I could have this all wrong–unfortunately, I’d need to sepnd more time researching this than I have readily at my disposal to be sure.

                  But (and this is frustrating) the burden ought to be on those who say Obama could solve this by executive order to show that he has the pwer to issue such an order.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  Mal,

                  Aren’t the regulations in EEO-1 implementing the Civil Rights Act that Congress passed?

                  That’s a bit different that the executive inventing new non-discrimination criteria on his own.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  As Mal notes above, the burden has been met. There’s nothing unusual about these kinds of restrictions being imposed by executive order.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  And I think, based on my e-mail archive at work, that the expansion of EO 11246 to include subcontractors was some time close to March 2009, but I could be mistaken.

                  That change was a huge expansion of the requirement.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  Aren’t the regulations in EEO-1 implementing the Civil Rights Act that Congress passed?

                  To answer that you need a lawyer, not an accountant. I just know what I need to help compile/file every September.

                • Pseudonym says:

                  Scott: how would it violate the Fifth Amendment? I’m assuming (guessing) you think it would violate the due process clause, since I don’t see what else could be related, but I still don’t understand the relevance. IANAL.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        Mizner is obviously right. Executive orders are inferior to legislation, and Obama’s strategy on DADT was vindicated. But now? You think you’re getting a nondiscrimination ban through a Republican House? Please. It’s an executive order or nothing.

        • david mizner says:

          He’s done more for LGBTI rights than any other president in history, and yet he still should do more. Part of the job of being a Democratic president in 2012.

        • joe from Lowell says:

          You think you’re getting a nondiscrimination ban through a Republican House?

          I don’t think we’re going to have a Republican House in a few months.

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            What if Obama doesn’t get re-elected, which is entirely possible? Then either Romney keeps the executive order, or repeals it and pays the political price for doing so. Even if we take the House, there will be either a GOP majority or enough Republicans to mount a filibuster in the Senate. And if the votes are there in both houses and Obama wins, it’s entirely possible that legislation could be passed anyway.

            At any rate, this isn’t comparable to the DADT strategy. Dealing with an existing Congress is one thing, hoping to get legislation from a hypothetical future Congress an entirely different issue.

            • joe from Lowell says:

              If Obama doesn’t get reelected, then the executive order disappears anyway, and the results of the election allow him to do so without paying a political price.

              Even if we take the House, there will be either a GOP majority or enough Republicans to mount a filibuster in the Senate.

              Oh, Scott, are we back to the filibuster in the Senate argument on this?

              Dealing with an existing Congress is one thing, hoping to get legislation from a hypothetical future Congress an entirely different issue.

              This is inappropriately short-term thinking. With all of the momentum behind the expansion of gay rights in general, there is no need for this kind of settling. This is one area, perhaps the one area, in which it is a near-certainty that increasingly-friendly Congresses are on the horizon.

              You’re also leaving out the opportunity cost. As you say, law is better than an E.O., but why would Harry Reid bump something off the Senate calendar to deal with an issue that has already been “taken care of?”

              • david mizner says:

                Not necessarily:

                “the executive order disappears anyway.’

                As I said above, Clinton’s gay rights EO survived 8 years of Bush.

              • Scott Lemieux says:

                then the executive order disappears anyway

                Maybe, maybe not. As Mizner says, Bush didn’t repeal the Clinton one.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  Maybe, maybe not.

                  It’s a lot more likely to go away than a bill passed by Congress.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  Of course. But 1)you’re assuming the bill, which involves a lot of things going right, and 2)if the executive order is repealed then you’re just back to the status quo in which progressives can fight for legislation with no opportunity cost. And if a Republican president doesn’t repeal the order, then it’s almost as good as legislation. I don’t see the downside.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  1. I think it is very likely that such a bill passes Congress in the next few years, yes. If I did not think so, I wouldn’t consideer a legislative route to be so superior. I’m not “assuming” passage, but I do have a high level of confidence predicting it. If I didn’t, I would probably favor the E.O. route.

                  2. Th downside is in that word “almost.” The downside is having an always-fragile protection instead of a robust one, while also taking the issue off the table.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  Having said all of that, I see now that there are some meaningful differences between this and DADT repeal (for instance, the existence of a federal DADT law, while there is none in place here) that change the calculus a bit.

                  The question is, how much?

            • daveNYC says:

              What price would Romney pay for nixing an Obama ex order? Given the recent throwing of tehghey under the bus by his campaign, I’d say that promising to repeal this hypothetical Obama executive order would probably be the first clearly stated no flip-flop policy statement out of the Romney camp.

          • Joe says:

            Sshh! When you say it, it doesn’t happen. (Anyway, I’m far from sure that something like that will happen.)

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      [Just in case anyone was wondering, the link twice cited above was in fact in the original post.]

    • Ed says:

      Prez has been better on LGBT rights than almost any other issue, but activists continue to push him. I mean that as a compliment.

      Quite so. And his improval on LGBT rights after a shaky start was noticeable after activists began complaining — and threatening.

      I agree in principle that it doesn’t matter what Obama “believes,” although it’s evident to me that he supports gay marriage but not enough to take any big risks in an election year. His campaign is still looking foolish and awkward right now. If Biden’s statements were a hint-hint to gay supporters that Obama is secretly on their side, it may not have been such a good move. It’s fair enough for the press to give him a hard time on this.

  10. Samwise Gamgee says:

    Had Aragorn spoken up sooner, my beloved Frodo might not have been driven beyond the Western Seas.

  11. UserGoogol says:

    Girls have butts too, you know. Focusing on anal sex is the laziest form of homophobia, (and the laziest form of trolling) since heterosexuals can engage in all sorts of freaky-ass shit too, and homosexuals can just hold hands and cuddle.

  12. Incontinentia Buttocks says:

    I agree that what Obama “really thinks” is irrelevant.

    I disagree that what Obama says he thinks is irrelevant. And I don’t think believing in the relevance of what Obama says entails believing in the bully pulpit (let alone the BULLY PULPIT).

    For instance, the anger among gay activists over this issue (cited above) that would be significantly mitigated if Obama were to endorse gay marriage (to be replaced, presumably, by anger from other quarters). The point is merely that it does, in fact, make a political difference what Obama says about this, whether or not it moves public opinion in favor of (or against) marriage equality (i.e. the infamous BULLY PULPIT).

    • Tom Hilton says:

      It makes a political difference, but it does not (and cannot) have any policy impact. Which is what Scott was saying.

      So sure, what the President says about marriage equality matters…to people who are easily distracted by shiny objects. To people who care about policy, not so much.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        Right.

      • david mizner says:

        The Obama should get really savvy and say the idea of butt sex grosses him out. It might win him a few votes in the middle, and to those of us who care about policy, it’s all the same.

        • Pseudonym says:

          For all we know, though, it might lose the first lady’s vote, and that one might count for a little more to him than the rest of ours.

          Shit, did I say that out loud?

      • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

        But if it makes a political difference, it can have a policy impact, as it might have an effect on who is in the White House from January 2013 to January 2017.

        (Please note, I’m not endorsing the notion that it should make such a difference. As noted upthread, whatever Obama says about this, he will be less bad than Romney on this issue. But politics is not an entirely rational business.)

        • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

          Put this another way: people “easily distracted by shiny objects” will have as much (if not more) impact on the outcome of this election than people who “care about policy” (and have contempt for the vulgar and their “shiny objects.”)

          • Tom Hilton says:

            People who are easily distracted by shiny objects will have an impact, but it won’t be an impact based on their own intention.

            Which is sort of the point of the phrase as I use it: going after the distracting shiny object (the President’s opinion on marriage equality) does not advance, and arguably detracts from the pursuit of, the real goals (LGBT equality in general, and marriage equality in particular).

            Yes, a lot of people will be distracted. We can choose not to be distracted. I’m saying that’s a choice we ought to make.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          as it might have an effect on who is in the White House from January 2013 to January 2017

          This is extraordinarily unlikely. (And cutting both ways; if Obama is refusing to back SSM for political reasons he’s almost certainly wrong.)

          • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

            Do I think that what Obama says about marriage equality will make a large political difference? No.

            But as we learned in Y2K, sometimes elections are so close that very small political effects prove very important.

            In terms of raw number of votes, Obama’s stated position on marriage equality will almost certainly make more of a difference than, say, the ballot design in a single county in Florida.

            • Scott Lemieux says:

              But the effects of the ballot design were 1)concentrated in an area where it had more impact, and 2)all worked to the harm of one candidate. Not only is Obama’s position on SSM likely to have a trivial effect on votes overall, it’s not even obvious what the direction of this effect would be. Even if we could be confident that it would have a net positive effect on the national popular vote, whether it would have a net positive impact in the hypothetical swing state in which a small number of votes would matter is a different question.

              So even if we agree that there’s some very small political effect, it still doesn’t say anything about what Obama should do.

  13. Waco Johnnie Dean says:

    I suspect most people taking the position that his real beliefs don’t matter are assuming he really supports gay marriage and is holding back for political reasons.

    But maybe he doesn’t really support. Maybe the status quo is the results of this lack of support. If Obama really favored gay marriage, maybe he would have have done even more for the cause.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Actually, I think it’s mostly people who think that his real beliefs do matter that assume his support for SSM.


      Maybe the status quo is the results of this lack of support.

      Fascinating; my Constitution doesn’t contain this presidential power to retroactively veto state laws.

      • Waco Johnnie Dean says:

        I was referring to something like the EO regarding contractors. Maybe Obama would sign it if he truly believed in it.

        People usually frame it as the opposite: if Obama really does believe in it, it hasn’t affected his actions. Ergo, real beliefs don’t matter.

        And please lose the sarcasm.

      • swearyanthony says:

        Actually, I think it’s mostly people who think that his real beliefs do matter that assume his support for SSM.

        No, these are the folks reading Glen Beck’s version of the Koran.

  14. Spud says:

    The Democrats are bulletproof with the gay voters. Does anyone really think the gays are going to vote Republican? Nowadays even the “Log Cabin Republicans” have been shunned by the religious wackadoodles who now infest the GOP.

    Obama can afford to not support gay rights as wholeheartedly as people want because he isn’t going to lose votes on it one way or the other. Its not like the Republicans are welcoming that group with open arms.

    Its all a matter of bitch and moan with what you got or deal with it on your own against people with the pitchforks and torches. Kinda like how feminists were with Clinton.

    • Bijan Parsia says:

      Hmm. Well, sorta, right? Depressed turnout/mobilization, fewer and smaller donations, etc. can have significant effects.

      What’s hard to imagine is that supporting gay rights even more so would lose him any significant number of votes. If gay marriage is too much for you as a voter, I’d be surprised if you were happy about any number of things about Obama.

      • Malaclypse says:

        Not sure if that is true for the elderly. My parents (aged 71 and 80 then) both despised the Republicans in 2008, but both would have been bothered by gay marriage. Don’t know if it would have changed their votes, but it might have kept them from voting, or gotten them to go third-party.

        • Bijan Parsia says:

          Let me grant that. My guess that it would be balanced by the people on the margin who would swing the other way. (Obviously, empirical data is needed.)

          And, of course, the question is where is the threshold for your parents given what he’s already done and given that no matter what he’ll do, the Republicans will run heavily antigay lines against Obama.

          • Spud says:

            Hmm. Well, sorta, right? Depressed turnout/mobilization, fewer and smaller donations, etc. can have significant effects.

            Do you really think gays are going to abandon Obama over his seemingly lukewarm support of them?

            No.

            Given the bigotry of the Republicans, gays are still going to be enthusiastic supporters of Obama. Even if they feel he is dragging his feet.

            • Bijan Parsia says:

              Given that plenty of leftists seem inclined to giving up on Obama in spite of the horrowshow alternatives, it’s not outlandish. I think Obama sees that as a credible enough threat.

              I wasn’t able to quickly find tracking polls on Obama’s job approval (or anything else) with sexual orientation cross-tabs, so I’m really just guessing.

      • Ed says:

        Smaller donations in particular might have a significant effect this year, when so much of Wall Street is displeased with Obama despite his repeated assumptions of a properly submissive posture.

  15. Jim says:

    Obama’s MO on this is his MO on everything. He’s cautious, for better and for worse. Spud above is basically right. I’m not willing to say he’ll lose x state if he comes out in support of gay marriage, but certainly I think it’s clear that gay rights activists do not have anywhere else to go (and are relatively small in number and heavily concentrated in areas where their votes are irrelevant), while squishy voters by definition do. Gay rights activists on this are in the same position as House liberals on the public option. The leverage just isn’t there.

    “Independents might get turned off by Obama” is tired and dumb, but certainly the fact that North Carolina is about to enshrine second class citizenship in law today should give some people pause. North Carolina isn’t Brooklyn and Obama doesn’t need it to win the election, but it’s not the old South either.

  16. Jim Lynch says:

    No time to read this thread, but Obama’s problem isn’t that voters don’t know what he thinks about the issue (not many really care). It’s that he sounds mush-mouthed addressing it. My guess is he genuinely believes it is best left to the 50 states to decide (until his presidency is finished, leastwise). But he’d alienate too many rank and file democrats if he said as much, and he knows it. Consequently, he hems, haws, and waffles. Which is to say he’s a politician that wants to be re-elected.

    Romney should be asked if he’s OK with the Mormon Church having dumped million$ into defeating California’s Prop (8?) a couple of years ago. BTH, has anyone calculated what amount he tithes every year to that church?

  17. cpinva says:

    what makes you believe obama “thinks” about same-gender marriage at all, beyond what he’s forced to “think” about it? i don’t. like most normal people, i hardly think about it, except when i’m forced to, because i’m confronted with it. i’d bet better than even money obama is part of my club. which is actually a good thing, because it means he really doesn’t care much one way or the other, except as a matter of discrimination. myself, i really don’t care who marries who, as long as the parties are of legal age, and it’s agreeable between them.

    i don’t care aside from that, because it’s frankly none of my business. as long as it doesn’t adversely affect me and/or my family, why should i care? the only reason the screechers on the right “care” is because it gives them another opportunity to fleece cash from the rubes. take that away, and they go on to something else more profitable.

  18. somethingblue says:

    The President says he’s opposed to gay marriage, and I take him at his word.

  19. [...] I see that Scott Lemieux says something pretty similar to this.  As per usual, I agree with him. This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the [...]

  20. [...] (typeof(addthis_share) == "undefined"){ addthis_share = [];}For reasons I stated earlier this week, the policy and political effects of Obama’s precise stated position on same-sex marriage are [...]

  21. John says:

    Feel free to explain why ejaculating into a vagina is a loving act. (to say nothing of all the other things heterosexual couples do – including anal sex!)

  22. rea says:

    Any sex involving anonytroll would necessarily be anal.

  23. mds says:

    Following troll removal, this remark has turned into quite the comment section homework assignment.

  24. Spud says:

    I don’t think any kind of sex with Anonatroll would be a loving act.

    More likely a commercial transaction or solitary act.

  25. Furious Jorge says:

    Because life, that’s why.

    I guess.

  26. Malaclypse says:

    Luckily that will always remain an untested hypothesis.

  27. MAJeff says:

    Then why do you crackers keep putting amendments to make life worse for LGBT people on the ballot?

  28. Pseudonym says:

    Yep, I’m convinced! Go Romney! Let’s drive right back into that ditch!

  29. MAJeff says:

    I believe you, Jennie.

  30. Pseudonym says:

    Poor Alanis Morissette finally has to cede her title of least accurate understanding of irony.

  31. Pseudonym says:

    So which do you consider the libido, organ or limb? And why do you argue that we be so much more accommodating of defective moral codes than of alternative shades of natural human attraction?

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