Throughout American history, civil rights for various groups, from women to blacks to gays, have come slowly and painfully. Typically, the movement begins with a small group in favor of expanding rights, a small group that is hostile to that expansion, and a small group that is ambivalent. In time, the last group gradually shifts to support the newer vision of social justice. That is what we see in President Obama’s support of gay rights. Barney Frank explains:
“My own view is that I look at President Obama’s record, he was probably inclined to think that same-sex marriage was legitimate, but as a candidate for president in 2008 that would have been an unwise thing to say,” Mr. Frank said. “And I don’t mean that he’s being hypocritical. I mean that if you live in a democratic society, it is a mix of what you think the voters want and what you think is doable.”
Liberals and conservatives alike enjoy pointing out that the president’s position on gay marriage is no different than Rick Santorum’s. Conservative(ish) Madison radio host Mitch Henck made this point over and over again the other day, feigning puzzlement at the gay community’s hostility to Santorum’s candidacy. Even if we disregarded the major gay rights initiatives Obama has championed, including domestic partnerships for federal employees, repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and a proactive campaign for gay rights abroad, there’s a major difference between Santorum and Obama on gay marriage.
Essentially, Obama is to gays what JFK and LBJ were to blacks in the early 60’s. He is trying to find a why to support the progressive definition of gay rights without losing an election. Santorum, very simply, is to gays what Strom Thurmond was to blacks. Not only is he viciously opposed to any recognition of gay partnerships, but he believes the law should reflect the view that homosexuality is immoral, just as Thurmond believed integration to be immoral.