The gay marriage gamble

12 May 2012

Written by: Erdem Koc

We’ve all been there.

On the verge of a leap of faith – be it literal or metaphorical – with a group of fellow would-be-leapees, waiting for one brave soul to take the proverbial plunge first.

US President Barack Obama took a huge leap last Wednesday in an interview with ABC News, when he said that he believes same-sex couples should have the right to marry.

Admittedly, it may have been a very hastily organised proclamation, with more than a helped nudge from Vice President Joe Biden’s comments over the weekend, but it was still an incredible leap all the same.

Obama’s statement came after what he called years of ‘evolving’ (not flip-flopping, as stated by Fox Nation) on his personal opinion on the issues, and that he steadfastly supports same-sex marriage.

During a somewhat uncharacteristic stumbling press appearance, Obama outlined the key factors that resulted in his changed stance.

He stated the he has always supported the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

He also spoke to the powerful tradition behind the word marriage, and that through conversations with friends, family and staff members, he finally arrived at the critical sound-byte.

‘It is important for me to affirm that…same sex couples should be able to get married.’

It’s clear the statement is a landmark moment in world politics, as Obama became the first sitting President of the United States to support same-sex marriage.

The LGBT community and its supporters have spent years campaigning for equal marriage rights, resulting in a handful of victories along the way, but none of the magnitude of this endorsement.

It’s a big moment, but it’s worth keeping in mind that 2012 is, of course, an election year.

As potentially groundbreaking as Obama’s statement is, at no point did the President outline proposed changes to US marriage laws. Instead he went to great lengths to stress that it was his ‘personal opinion’ only

So, amid all the resulting hype that will follow Wednesday’s announcement, it’s tough to know just what the point was behind the move.

In reality, it boils down to a situation when Obama acted swiftly in an effort to turn a potential Biden-created negative into a positive on the election trail.

The LGBT community will almost certainly flood to Obama and his polling booths, hoping that the statement will lead to potential changes to the Marriage Act in Obama’s second-term.

And while Obama would’ve had much of the support from this demographic almost by default, it can help rally voters that may have stayed away from the polls. Voting in the US, after all, is not compulsory.

After the changes the Obama administration has already made in support of the LGBT community, further changes – such as taking steps to make same-sex marriage legal nation-wide – are not beyond the realms of possibility, and can easily be ‘sold’ to the demographic.

Besides the LGBT community, the decision to come out in support of same-sex marriage could score Obama votes in the crucial youth demographic.

Obama is no stranger to appealing to the youth vote. Generating support and creating a groundswell amongst young voters was an instrumental part of his 2008 election campaign.

But, four years down the line, catchy slogans, indie posters and shout-outs from Jay-Z just might not cut it.

A bigger step to engage a growingly disillusioned youth vote had to be made, and Obama did just that.

However, the biggest worry for the Obama camp would be that his endorsement could mobilise the traditional, right-wing Republican factions that haven’t exactly been sold with Mitt Romney.

So, while Wednesday’s endorsement by Obama sets an incredible precedent, it’s also is an incredible political move by Obama.

And a risky one at that.

Come November, we’ll have a better idea if it was a risk Obama should have taken.

Liam Quinn is a second-year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University.  He is currently on exchange at Michigan State University, and is covering the 2012 US Presidential Elections for upstart.  You can follow him on Twitter: @liamquinn23