The Benefits and Risks of Supporting Gay Marriage

What President Obama's endorsement of gay marriage didn't do: Allow a single new gay couple to get married. What it did do: Inspire waves of campaign donations, attack ads, and a symbolic but ultimately meaningless congressional vote.

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What President Obama's endorsement of gay marriage didn't do: Allow a single new gay couple to get married. What it did do: Inspire waves of campaign donations, attack ads, and a symbolic but ultimately meaningless congressional vote. The easiest ways to express how you feel about the issue are some of the least pleasant parts of American democracy.

Hours after Obama's interview with ABC News was aired, the House of Representatives voted 245 to 171 to block any taxpayer money from going to a Justice Department effort to actively work to end the Defense of Marriage Act, Politico's Seung Min Kim reports. Was there a Justice Department program to actively end the law, passed under Bill Clinton, that defines marriage as between a man and a woman? No. The administration is just no longer defending it. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Oklahoma, made it clear the timing of the vote was meant to make a statement: "It is not President Obama’s prerogative to decide which laws matter and which do not, nor his right to challenge constitutional amendments duly passed by the various states." 
Democrats, of course, don't mind scoring a few points on the issue, either. A spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi denounced the vote as a sign Republicans are "firmly on the wrong side of history." Obama's reelection campaign quickly posted an ad contrasting Obama's new view with Mitt Romney's opposition to gay marriage.
For those whose speeches aren't broadcast on C-SPAN, the best way to show approval is to donate a whole bunch of money. Once-skeptical liberal donors are now happy to donate thousands of dollars, which have a good chance to be spent airing the negative ads that Americans hate. Hollywood executive Norman Lear and his wife are giving a total of $80,000 to Obama's campaign, after being reluctant to give because of Obama's compromises on liberal issues. "He came out in support of marriage equality," Lear told The Hollywood Reporter's Tina Daunt. "He didn't have to do it, but he did it. And it's what the country needs. So I said, 'let's max out.'" Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black is now trying to attend an Obama fundraiser he'd planned on skipping. Only a couple weeks ago, he urged gay donors not to give Obama money because the president was too soft on gay rights. Obama's campaign is encouraging this reaction. It emailed supporters Thursday, "Did you wake up with a smile on your face and even more committed to getting this president re-elected? I did, too. We're all proud to say: This is my president. Now let's have his back. Pitch in today…"
Then there are those folks who are trying very hard not to have a reaction. House Speaker John Boehner told reporters Thursday, "I believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. And the president and the Democrats can talk about it all they want. The fact is the American people are focused on our economy and they’re asking the question, 'Where are the jobs?'" Florida Sen. Marco Rubio told Laura Ingraham on her radio show, "I’m not saying this isn’t an issue we shouldn’t have an opinion on," saying the issue was being "litigated" in the states. Obama, Rubio said, "doesn’t want to talk about the issue — especially the economy... Every week, it is an effort by this president to divide one group of Americans against another group of Americans for the purposes of getting him reelected... It’s very, very sad."
Do those non-reactions sound familiar? That's because Sen. John Kerry said the exact same thing a little more than eight years ago, when he was running for president against George W. Bush and gay marriage was a lot less popular. "I don't support gay marriage. But I also support equal protection under the law. I support not having a president who wants to drive wedges between people and try to divide Americans," Kerry told Fox News in January 2004. "This President can't talk about jobs. He can't talk about health care. He can't talk about a foreign policy... so he is looking for a wedge issue to divide the American people," Kerry said the next month. As unpleasant as some of the reactions to Obama's gay marriage remarks are, these guys should note that not having a reaction at all has a very poor record of success.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.