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Obama’s ‘Evolution’

May 10, 2012

Credit: Benjamin Wheelock, via Salon.com

Dear progressives and gay activists shrugging off Obama’s shift on marriage equality as disingenuous or “a day late and a dollar short”: seriously?

As I said yesterday, whatever criticism you may have about the timing or motivation – do not underestimate the importance of a sitting president coming out for gay marriage. No, it doesn’t have any immediate effect on the law, but it is still a very big deal. Moreover, you need to get savvy to a few very important points:

  1. Progressive change never comes from the White House. It comes to the White House. The amazing speed with which the cause of same-sex marriage has advanced over the past decade has taken many politicians by surprise; Obama is no different. You can’t discount this moment simply because Obama wasn’t out-front on the issue. The important thing is that he got there — and  many Americans will follow.
  2. The bottom line for all politicians when they make decisions on issues,  is what they lose and what they gain politically. If they don’t receive the appreciation of the very people who pushed the hardest, they will never do it again. If a movement asks for something and gets it, but then fails to respond enthusiastically, that White House will never want to do anything for them ever again. Obama is taking a political risk and deserves some credit and thanks.
  3. Throughout his term of office, with few exceptions, President Obama has always acted like someone who supports gay marriage. At the end of the day, you are who your record says you are.

The President’s statement is the crest of a sea change. It is not something to be dismissed, and truly must be celebrated. Would we be here without the political pressure brought to bear on the White House by gay activists? No. But that’s another very important point: political activism works. This is a perfect reminder of why we have to continuously apply pressure to our politicians, even the ones we support. After all, it takes a lot of pressure to form a diamond.

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