May 23, 2013
Obama’s Confederate Marriage Policy
Posted on Jun 7, 2012
By Scott Tucker
Does the road to Damascus lead to the road to the White House, or is it quite the other way around? The sincerity of Obama’s faith is a metaphysical question, and properly belongs between himself and God. But he has advertised his religious and personal motives in the context of public policy, so his mixed motives are undeniably part of Obama’s rhetorical arsenal in the midst of another presidential campaign.
I must underscore the very words that were most often edited out of the immediate news cycle by lachrymose pundits, by “nonpartisan” national gay organizations and by frankly partisan “progressives.” If we take Greenwald’s advice to distinguish motives from actions, then these words have the actual effect of reinforcing bigotry and discrimination:
“I have to tell you that part of my hesitation on this has been I didn’t want to nationalize the issue. There’s a tendency when I weigh in to think suddenly it becomes political and it becomes polarized. And what you’re seeing is, I think, states working through this issue—in fits and starts, all across the country. And I think that’s a healthy process and a healthy debate. And I continue to believe that this is an issue that is gonna be worked out on the local level, because historically, this has not been a federal issue, what’s recognized as marriage.”
Historically, and indeed legally, that is false. In Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in 1967 that a Virginia law forbidding marriage across racial lines violated personal liberty and the constitutional principles of the republic, and this ruling left no doubt that the right to marry was indeed “a federal issue” that would overrule all racial restrictions on marriage that still remained in the laws of the states. The ACLU had raised 14th Amendment claims in defending the plaintiffs, Richard and Mildred Loving, and the Supreme Court substantially ruled in their favor on those grounds. On June 12, 2007, on the 40th anniversary of the Loving decision, Mildred Loving issued this statement:
In a starkly different sense, marriage also became a federal issue when the Defense of Marriage Act was passed by a large bipartisan majority in Congress, and when Clinton signed it into federal law in 1996. At that time no state was granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but DOMA explicitly (and for the first time in this country) ruled out federal recognition of any same-sex marriage that might be conducted at the state level. DOMA, which defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman, also gave momentum to local campaigns to alter state constitutions in the same direction.
DOMA remains on the books, though Obama has instructed the Justice Department not to enforce or defend it, and a federal appeals court ruled a section of it unconstitutional May 31. The Republican leadership in Congress has declared it will sue the Justice Department to require the enforcement of DOMA. This is the bipartisan scorched earth policy all over again. The Democrats collaborate with Republicans in setting forest fires, and then “progressives” arrive at election time with the usual message of Smokey the Bear: “Only you can prevent forest fires.”
Why did Clinton sign DOMA? Of course, the devil made him do it. Clinton’s habit of blaming all bad shit on others extends, by the way, to blaming Colin Powell for assuring him that the “don’t ask, don’t tell” military discrimination bill would not really do what it was designed to do: discriminate. That policy was finally repealed by Congress in 2011.
Obama’s fervent loyalists of all sexual persuasions just want to cherish the moment, the rosy afterglow of his announcement that he now finds gay marriage consistent with flag, faith and family. Thanks for nothing is what I said then, and what I still say now. When I removed myself from the group hug of many “progressive Democrats,” one reader of Truthdig left a note calling me an “ingrate.” True, and thanks very much—but only in the strict partisan sense that I owe no loyalty to their party, and that I will certainly vote against the candidate of their choice. My gratitude goes instead to people who never had to “evolve” in order to defend the most basic human rights, and who are also determined to extend democracy into the realm of the economy.
Though I gladly grant the significance of a president endorsing gay marriage for the first time in public, I cannot grant Obama the moral and political credit that his party now demands. The credit belongs by moral right and historical evidence to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender movements, including our efforts over the decades to secure equality of kinship. The significance of Obama’s words May 9 can be only continuous with all the events that came before and will still follow. Otherwise each news cycle destroys both personal memory and the wider horizon of history, and all of social reality is reduced to disparate parts and sensational first impressions. Just as the “single issue” of same-sex marriage illuminates many other features in our political landscape, so the career of a single politician must be drawn against the background of the corporate state.
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