This week has been a rollercoaster ride for gay rights advocates in America. On Tuesday, an unpleasant and discriminatory anti-marriage law was approved by voters in a referendum in North Carolina. Less than 24 hours later, President Obama, presumably tired of the splinters he’d been getting from sitting on the fence, finally confirmed what almost everybody suspected: he supports marriage for same-sex couples.
This was big news in the States. The ABC network, which conducted the interview, went to extreme lengths to safeguard their exclusive, and then interrupted their normal schedule to carry the newsflash.
It’s a largely symbolic announcement: the issue of who can or cannot get married is largely decided by the individual states, and an intervention by the federal government would be difficult for many different reasons. Even so, for Obama to make a statement now is a brave move. Few issues arouse more passion than LGBT rights, and same-sex marriage in particular is guaranteed to get people riled up. The numbers are moving in the right direction, though: Gallup’s figures show that 50% of Americans support same-sex marriage – down slightly from 53% last year, but a significant increase from the 27% who were in favour the first time the question was asked in 1996. That is a massive shift in just 16 years.
Just before Obama’s announcement, the Guardian crunched some numbers and concluded that the President’s re-election campaign has nothing to fear from his announcement. That’s not a view shared by other pundits, but whatever the numbers say, there’s little doubt that Obama is on the right side of history. As gay people leave the closet behind forever to live openly and proudly in society, the question of equal marriage rights is a matter of “when”, not “if”.
The endorsement of the most powerful man on earth is also a welcome boost to the gay rights issue elsewhere in the world. The timing is very apt for us in the UK, where reports are circulating that the coalition government’s same-sex marriage plans are in turmoil and could be postponed. I have some more thoughts on the pro-marriage campaign here in the UK, but I will save them for a future post. In the meantime, you might want to check out the new campaign (Out4Marriage) which has been set up to complement the existing C4EM petition.