Blog Posts, Civil Rights, Culture and Politics, Presidential Elections

The Hill: President Obama’s Support for Gay Marriage Demonstrates the Moral Leadership America Needs

The Hill’s Pundits Blog, May 10, 2012, by Michelle D. Bernard

The manner in which those who would be president view the basic civil liberties and rights of all Americans regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation says all that we need to know about the moral character of those who would be president of the greatest nation on earth. In asserting his belief that same-sex couples should have the right to marry, President Obama demonstrated that he is a man on the side of all Americans, not just those who are “straight.”

One of the marks of true leadership is the ability and willingness to stand up for the rights of others in the face of opposition and regardless of the political consequences one may face.
In the 1960 presidential election, civil-rights issues were at the forefront of American public discourse. Despite the possibility of losing support in the South, then-Sen. John F. Kennedy supported racial integration and civil rights. When civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., was arrested and jailed in Georgia for trying to integrate a department-store lunch counter, Kennedy telephoned Dr. King’s wife to express his concern. His brother, Robert Kennedy, called Georgia Gov. Ernest Vandiver Jr., and obtained Dr. King’s release from prison. These acts alone could have cost Kennedy the 1960 election. Instead, his moral leadership garnered him the support of African-Americans across the country.

 Time will tell whether President Obama’s support of same-sex marriage will cost him votes with key blocs like African-Americans, who support the president but are opposed to gay marriage. According to a recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, support for same-sex marriage in the African-American community has increased from 25 percent to 39 percent while opposition has fallen from 63 percent to 49. Additionally, according to the Pew Center’s research, “[s]ince 2004, there has been a broad-based decline [in opposition] — including strong opposition — to gay marriage.” In 2004, just 31 percent of Americans supported gay marriage. In 2008, 39 percent of Americans supported gay marriage. As of April 2012, 47 percent favor gay marriage.
It has been said that “there is no moral precept that does not have something inconvenient about it.” The timing of the president’s declaration might have been inconvenient in this election year, but it was needed. The fact that he had the moral certitude to make his feelings known publicly despite all that is at stake for him personally is an act of moral courage that we need in a leader.

Michelle D. Bernard is the president & CEO of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics & Public Policy

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