Friday May 11, 2012

LENOX

Carving out his own profile in courage, Presi dent Obama has ex pressed his support of same-sex marriage rights in a moving interview with Robin Roberts of ABC's "Good Morning America." The full conversation, available on-line, is must viewing.

Perhaps the timing for this landmark civil-liberties declaration was affected by Vice-President Biden's equally bold affirmation on NBC's "Meet the Press" last Sunday. But no matter. What counts is that the nation's top two elected officials have exercised leadership that will loom large in the painful, all-too-gradual efforts of this society for a long overdue, final resolution of this fractious issue.

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Mr. Obama's statement was a model of simplicity and dignity: "At a certain point I've just concluded that for me personally, it's important to affirm that same-sex couples should be able to get married."

It was a family decision, heavy influenced by his daughters, Sasha, 10, and Malia, 13, who have friends with parents in a loving, same-sex relationship. He pointed out that his children don't understand why those parents should be treated differently.

"It doesn't make sense to them and frankly, that's the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective," Mr. Obama said.

It's no surprise that in this overheated campaign season, the punditocracy, the blogosphere and the Twitterati pounced on this historic civil-rights turning point to analyze its impact on the president's prospects for re-election.


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While it's true that polls show the nation split, the trend of history is on the side of gay marriage. A Gallup poll released one day before Mr. Obama's interview found 50 percent of Americans favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry. In 1996, support was only 27 percent, while 68 percent were opposed. A recent ABC News-Washington Post poll showed a wider margin in support of gay-marriage rights: 52 to 43 percent.

Viewpoints also are split along generational and ethnic lines. The age group most supportive of gay marriage is 18-29. Two out of three say gay marriage should be legal; in the 30-39 year old group, 61 percent are in support.

Above 40, the poll tilts the other direction, with strong opposition by seniors 65 and up. The African-American and Hispanic communities also are against gay-marriage rights by substantial margins.

So, the president's decision may fire up his base of young voters, notably lacking in passion so far this year, but won't sit well with his minority-group constituencies nor with some Catholics or older Americans who vote heavily but have not been bastions of support for Mr. Obama.

Once campaign season goes into overdrive after Labor Day -- remember, only political junkies are all wrapped up in these prognostications right now -- the condition of the economy will weigh most heavily as still-undecided voters and crucial independents in swing states coalesce behind the president or behind Mitt Romney.

As for Mr. Romney, his reaction to the president's affirmation was notably cautious: "My view is that marriage itself is a relationship between a man and a woman, and that's my own preference. I know other people have differing views . This is a very tender and sensitive topic ." He stressed that his views have been the same "since I've been a candidate."

Some churlish commentators noted that Mr. Romney's family history based on past Mormon positions would support marriage as a relationship between a man and multiple women.

By Nov. 6, social issues are likely to recede in importance and Mr. Romney's lack of direct criticism against his opponent on gay rights signals that he will not focus his campaign in that direction. Or, so we hope.

Even Fox News has pulled back from its initial depiction of the president's stand as a "war on marriage."

During my own formative years back in the 1950s, most gay individuals were deeply closeted because of pervasive homophobia by the general public. African-Americans -- Negroes at the time -- remained oppressed and exploited 90 years after slavery was outlawed.

Much has changed for the better -- though there's no call for complacency -- and as a first-generation Ameri can, Wednesday's breakthrough by our chief executive caused me to reflect happily on how far our society has progressed, despite too many pockets of ignorance that still endure. A champagne toast in honor of the president followed.

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Andrew Sullivan, the political conservative and openly-gay Catholic who blogs for The Daily Beast-Newsweek, told NPR's "All Things Considered" that he had previously "pooh-poohed" the significance of a presidential stand on same-sex marriage.

Then, he went on: "I watched the interview and the tears flooded. There is something about hearing your president affirm your humanity you don't know what effect it has until you hear it."

That says it all.

Clarence Fanto is a regular Eagle contributor.