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The president and same-sex marriage

Published May 16, 2012 11:49 PM

President Barack Obama’s recent statement in support of same-sex marriages reflects the hard work of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer organizations, activists and allies to demand the right of equality for LGBTQ people. The fact that Obama made this statement in an election year — in which he is obviously concerned with receiving as many votes as possible — speaks as a testament to the changing consciousness in U.S. society around LGBTQ rights and ending anti-LGBTQ bigotry. That consciousness has only come through decades of struggle by LGBTQ people and allies.

It is also significant that the first president to come out in support of same-sex marriage is also the country’s first African-American president. Capitalism always attempts to divide workers and tell them that they do not share the same interests. In this instance, the Black community is consistently baited in the corporate media as being anti-LGBTQ — despite the fact that many people in the LGBTQ community are African American, and that many of their family members and friends are also African American. The media even go so far as to demonize African countries as being anti-LGBTQ — as if the U.S. has some moral high ground from which to speak in terms of LGBTQ rights.

Workers World reporter Frank Neisser wrote in 2004: “The right to marry is a basic question of equality. There are more than 1,000 benefits on the state and federal level associated with marriage that are currently denied to same-sex partners, including numerous tax, insurance, hospital visitation and bereavement rights. Civil unions only provide a small number of these and … create an inferior second-class status.” (Feb. 19, 2004) Even in states where same-sex marriage has been legalized, federal benefits of marriage are still denied to married same-sex couples.

However, while it is notable that Obama took this bold step in openly supporting same-sex marriage, his statement made clear that he and Washington would not be doing much to secure that right for LGBTQ people. After stating that it was his personal belief that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, Obama quickly added, “And I continue to believe that this is an issue that is going to be worked out at the local level, because historically this has not been a federal issue.” (ABC News, May 9)

Obama made his remarks, in an interview with ABC news reporter Robin Roberts, just one day after North Carolina passed a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as solely between a man and a woman.

African-American Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina called Obama’s upholding of states’ rights a mistake: "If we consider this to be a civil right, and I do, I don’t think civil rights ought to be left up to a state-by-state approach. I think we should have a national policy on this." (­MSNBC, May 14)

It was a national approach that overturned the laws against marriage between whites and people of color in 1967. In Loving v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws were unconstitutional, laying the basis for the nullification of all race-based marriage legislation in the U.S. Like Obama’s statement, the Supreme Court’s 1967 ruling was a manifestation of years of struggle by grassroots activists and communities.

As always, it will be the continued struggles of LGBTQ people and their allies that will win their true and full liberation.