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Obama’s Confederate Marriage Policy

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Posted on Jun 7, 2012
AP/Mike Groll

An opponent of gay marriage holds a sign outside the Senate Chamber at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y., not long before the legislature of that state sided with gay couples.

By Scott Tucker

Our first black president endorses a Confederate policy of states’ rights in regard to same-sex marriage. This is only one reason why Barack Obama’s “evolution” on same-sex marriage makes no sense without considering the wider and starker political devolution of the Democratic Party. Obama has not changed his long held position that each state still has the right to be an experimental station for or against marital equality, though most states now have some form of legal ban against gay marriage.

Obama has used both the language of evolution, suggesting the origin of species and the slow grind of geological time, along with the language of religious epiphany, suggesting moral enlightenment and amazing grace. Whether we take him at his word, or regard all that rhetoric as one way to buy time in two campaigns for the White House, there can be no doubt that Obama’s brand of cool, calculated and “centrist” politics has always contained a more messianic strain as well. Whether he delivers the message directly or by proxy, he is sizing up the audience and working on his own timeline. Vice President Joe Biden may have jumped a bit ahead of the script on gay marriage, but the more coded signals had already been sent to the public.

As reported by Olivier Knox on ABC’s OTUS News on April 18, “First lady Michelle Obama on Tuesday [April 17] put the Supreme Court at the core of President Obama’s argument for re-election, telling supporters that the vote in November could affect Americans’ security, freedoms and whether they can ‘love whomever we choose’—a reference to the fight over gay and lesbian rights.” In the same speech at a rally in Nashville, Tenn., Michelle Obama said, “This president has brought us out of the dark and into the light. I hope you are all fired up and ready to go.” Knox added, “Asked about similar statements in the past, the White House has denied that they reflect any newfound White House support for gay marriage.” Kristina Schake, the first lady’s communications director, stayed on message and reiterated the importance of the decisions of the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court is the trump card played in the poker game of every big election, and is intended to be the last word in political “pragmatism.” No one gets the last word in politics, however, or not so long as we defend free speech and freedom of assembly. Using the Supreme Court as an argument for the re-election of Obama means nothing less than rewarding the very politician who signed away habeas corpus, and who has become a living pillar of the “security state.” As Steven Rosenfeld wrote in AlterNet in April, “What started under Bush and has continued under Obama are battlefield values that have been conflated with domestic policing. … Obama has begun to wind down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But he hasn’t begun to roll back the most extreme civil liberties abuses tied to the earliest phases of that war. Liberals expected otherwise from a constitutional law professor and candidate who campaigned against the excesses of the Bush administration.”

On May 9, in the first hours after Obama’s latest “evolution” on gay marriage, Glenn Greenwald wrote in Salon, “When it comes to assessing a politician, what matters, at least to me, are actions, not motives. If they do the wrong thing, they should be criticized regardless of motive; conversely, if they do the right thing, they should be credited.”


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Not so fast—and not so simple. If a politician has kept personal and religious motives out of the open discussion of public policies, then we are free to speculate on “hidden motives,” but we must attend in earnest to the real evidence in the court of public opinion. That would be a fair trial, in precisely the sense Greenwald proposes, for the distinction he was making between motives and actions deserves consideration. Indeed, I remember the many times in the past when “progressives” would make the most regressive excuses for the public policies of Bill Clinton, and then they often argued that he might be a political whore but he had a heart of gold. The contents of the hearts of politicians matter to me no more than the contents of their stomachs. But when politicians make performance art out of their own motives, whether they do the right or the wrong thing, then it is too late to close the curtains on the public stage, or to rule out such evidence in court. Nor do I grant that Obama has simply done the right thing regarding gay marriage. He has done the wrong thing more consistently, and indeed more explicitly.

As Sam Smith wrote in Undernews on May 10, “Obama is the sort of guy who offers to split his Swiss cheese with you and then gives you the holes, while he takes the cheese.” Smith added, “His position, coming on the heels of the North Carolina referendum to add a ban on gay marriages to the state’s constitution is almost a precise replica of the position the post Civil War Confederates took.” For evidence, Smith posted a photocopy of an old passage from the North Carolina Constitution, before that state scrapped its anti-miscegenation laws:

Intermarriages of whites and negroes forbidden. All marriages between a white person and a negro, or between a white person and a person of negro descent to the third generation inclusive, are hereby forever prohibited. Read three times and ratified in open Convention, this 11th day of October, A.D. 1875.

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