No One Asked Me, but ... (Obama on Same-Sex Marriage)

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... I am surprisingly moved by Barack Obama's discussion just now of his "evolved" position on same-sex marriage. I agree with Ta-Nehisi Coates's immediate reaction: that this was a particularly notable, humane, and leader-like stand for him to take on the day after North Carolina's landslide vote for Amendment One and against same-sex marriage. [Update. Also see Jonathan Rauch, who quotes Mark Twain via Harry Truman: "When in doubt, do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest." And Steve Clemons.]

This is a field where I understand the concept of "evolution." When I was a school kid, in the small-town America of the 1950s and 1960s, I had many gay friends -- but of course didn't know that, because it was undiscussable at the time. I am painfully embarrassed at thinking of the commonplace fag/queer jokes and schoolyard taunts of that time, but of course not as pained as my friends who had to laugh along with them. It was not until I was in college that I was aware of having gay friends -- and over the years, as my wife and I have celebrated their marriages (where that was legal) and their non-married partnerships (where it was not), I've come to understand that it is pointless, cruel, unfair, and wrong to deny them the satisfactions, and responsibilities, of committed married life. And as for the idea that same-sex marriage is a "threat" to the stability of marriage as a whole: Come on! I defy anyone to demonstrate that it cracks the top 100 list of forces eroding the institution of marriage.

I am aware that there are various slice-and-dice cynical assessments one could make of the president's comments today. (Why did he take so long? Why did he back off the support he'd expressed in the 1990s? Might this be useful as a wedge issue in the election? It doesn't have any immediate impact since it's still up to the states. And so on.) But the fact remains that five minutes before his announcement, no one could be sure that he would take the step of saying that his personal views had changed. He did -- and it was important, brave, potentially risky, and right. That should be noted. It's a significant day.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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