Judge Vaughn Walker's ruling against California's Prop 8 yesterday was greeted by certain elected officials around the country with enthusiastic joy. "A true victory for #equality! V. pleased Judge Walker has found #Prop 8 to be unconstitutional," Senator Kirsten Gillibrand tweeted. San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom said, "Today's decision is a victory for the fundamental American idea enshrined in our Constitution that separate is not equal and that all people deserve equal rights and treatment under the law." And President Obama? Well, he was ... pleased. We know this not because he personally commented on the ruling, but because a White House spokesman provided the press with this muted statement.
“The President has spoken out in opposition to Proposition 8 because it is divisive and discriminatory. He will continue to promote equality for LGBT Americans.
If you read this statement without knowing anything about Obama, you would assume he supports gay marriage. After all, Prop 8's sole purpose was to outlaw gay marriage; if Obama opposed it, he must favor gay marriage. Furthermore, one would assume that equality for gays means having the same rights as heterosexuals, including the right to get married.
And yet, Obama's position remains that "marriage is between a man and woman," as he said shortly before the 2008 presidential vote. An unnamed aide explains the logic to Politico:
The official statement didn’t reiterate Obama’s opposition to gay marriage, but a spokesman said his position on that issue was unchanged.
“He supports civil unions, doesn’t personally support gay marriage though he supports repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, and has opposed divisive and discriminatory initiatives like Prop. 8 in other states,” said the Obama aide, who asked not to be named.
Obama's cognitive dissonance on the issue I think only heterosexuals should get married, but I don't support laws that say only heterosexuals should get married seems like an attempt at walking a tightrope on a divisive issue, an effort to avoid alienating gays and gay-rights advocates as well as socially conservative Democrats and Independents. But when the Prop 8 case winds its way up to the Supreme Court smack dab in the middle of the next presidential campaign, it may be harder for Obama to continue to equivocate.
"Anyone who just looks at this from an objective point of view realizes the president’s position is untenable," Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage, an anti-gay-marriage group, tells Politico. "What has not been clear is how [Obama] squares his position for equality with his refusal to embrace actual equality in marriage," Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry, a marriage-equality group, says. At least on this point, they can agree.