by Bruce Thornton
In yet another act of election-year cynicism, Barack Obama has just announced, “I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.” This statement follows similar pronouncements by Joe Biden and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. To hear Obama tell it, this change reflects his “evolution” away from his previously stated position, which he made clear in 2008 a few days before the election: “I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. I am not in favor of gay marriage.” That same year he told Reverend Rick Warren that marriage is a “union between a man and a woman,” adding that it is a “sacred union” with “God in the mix.” Both statements contradicted what he had told a Chicago gay newspaper in 1996 while running for the Illinois state senate: “I favor legalizing same-sex marriage.” No wonder this year’s electoral conversion smells suspicious even to Obama cheerleader MSNBC, which on its First Read blog brushed past the personal “evolution” pretext and zeroed in on the political calculus: “Obama’s shift not only speaks to a broad swath of the electorate, which has exhibited increasing acceptance of same-sex marriage in opinion polls, but also gay and lesbian voters who compose a core part of Obama’s base, and have been major fundraisers for his re-election.”
This latest about-face, then, clearly shows that Obama’s 2008 opposition to gay marriage was devised to make him appear a centrist during the presidential election, and that now he believes he can speak honestly and shore up his progressive base.
That Obama would say one thing while believing another is well established by his long track record of shifting his policy positions depending on whether he is pandering to the center or the left––consider extraordinary renditions, military tribunals, Guantanamo, or the surge in Iraq, all of which he vociferously opposed until he supported them. Some might think that he is a rank opportunist who believes in none of these positions, his public statements based on tactical calculations reflecting polls and political necessity. Remember his principled opposition to the evil Bush tax cuts, which he then extended a month after the 2010 electoral “shellacking,” as he called it?
But consideration of the world from which Obama emerged points us to what he really thinks. It beggars belief to think someone who has spent his whole adult life in the progressive purlieus of academe and community activism, where gay marriage, like abortion, is a sacrament, could sincerely be opposed to it. Like taxing the greedy rich, America’s foreign policy sins, endemic white racism, redistributionist economics, global warming, the evils of carbon-based energy, deficit spending, conservative misogynism, and all the other scriptures in the progressive psalter, the rightness and justness of gay marriage are revealed truths that require obedience, not justification.
Indeed, gay marriage is particularly expressive of the progressive gospel, for this issue concentrates all that sect’s fundamentalist doctrines. First, it exemplifies the progressive idea that the traditional wisdom and beliefs of the masses are benighted remnants of their ignorant, superstitious past from which we should be evolving. The collective wisdom of the human race developed over centuries is automatically suspect and to be rejected as irrational justifications for oppression, exclusion, and the defense of unfair privilege. Progressive moderns, supposedly armed with advances in knowledge discovered by the “human sciences,” are better able to arrange society and human relations so that they reflect the reality hidden to our religion-addled ancestors, and thus can ensure justice and equality. So the belief based on faith, tradition, and natural law that marriage is an institution joining a man and woman is to be rejected, and society to be reshaped according to the truths possessed by enlightened progressives.Next, gay marriage is an important component of the identity politics that dominate the liberal university. Like the other so-called minority victims of historical prejudice, oppression, and exclusion, homosexuals are owed affirmation and reparations in the form of faculty positions, gay-centric takes on traditional disciplines like history or English, and their own departments, majors, minors, or programs. Outside the university, laws and behavior uncongenial to the gay agenda must be fought through the courts and the federal government. To work, though, grievance politics requires grievances, for no matter how successful or powerful a victim-group is, no matter how much progress is made in eliminating prejudice or exclusion from institutions and laws, the group must still find an injustice to fight in order to justify its existence and privileges. For the gay lobby, traditional marriage is the most important target, for it is passionately supported by those constituencies, especially conservatives and people of faith, who stand in the way of the progressives’ agenda of reshaping society and human nature according to their utopian ideology.
Finally, legalizing gay marriage necessarily requires empowering anti-democratic federal bureaucrats and judges in order to override the stubborn ignorance and bigotry of the people. Whatever polls might say about increasing support for gay marriage, its proponents aren’t about to put the question to the people’s vote. Remember California’s Proposition 8, which in 2008, the same year Obama overwhelmingly won California, defined marriage in the state constitution as solely between a man and a woman? It passed in this progressive bastion, to be overturned later by the State Supreme Court. Progressives prefer to achieve their aims not through democratic elections that reflect the will of the people, but through unelected judges and bureaucrats who share the progressive world-view that the people need to be coerced into believing so they’ll do the right thing. Obama’s current flip-flop on gay marriage is another sign of his preference for using coercive federal power to bypass the will of the states, where such highly contested social issues should be adjudicated through the democratic process.
Obama, of course, for three years has been regularly using presidential power to bypass the people in order to shape policy. Marriage laws may be the purview of the states, but don’t think that that cannot change. Remember, Obama ordered the Department of Justice not to defend the democratically passed Defense of Marriage Act, which was passed in part to protect the integrity of state laws. He also has gone on record as saying the issue will ultimately be determined by the Supreme Court, one or more of whose justices the next president will most likely choose. It’s not unthinkable that some future Supreme Court will find the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and override the 32 state laws defending traditional marriage.
Given how thoroughly the issue of gay marriage expresses the foundational progressive beliefs that define the university and that underlie most of Obama’s policies, it strains credulity to think that support for gay marriage hasn’t been Obama’s actual position all along. Like his breakout 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention in which be proclaimed, “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America––there is the United States of America,” his support for traditional marriage was just one more patch of camouflage hiding his progressive agenda.Bruce Thornton
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