During the last two weeks, a strange phenomenon has occurred. As someone who follows American politics with a deep fascination, I found myself, for the first time in a long time, surprised. When I thought I had reached the point where nothing a politician could do would catch me off guard anymore, Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama managed to do so.
A little more than a week ago, Biden said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” he was “comfortable” with gay marriage, stating that homosexual and heterosexual couples “are entitled to the same exact rights — all the civil rights, all the civil liberties.”
This view came as quite a shock to the Obama administration, which had been skirting around the issue since Obama began campaigning for the presidency. Of course, the president came forward in support of civil unions, but when it came to marriage, he and his administration chose not take a decisive stance.
It’s unheard of for a democratic politician who is appealing for re-election to take such a strong stance on such a large issue as gay marriage. Biden, too, is a man known for having little to no ability to filter his thoughts before they come out of his mouth (Recall back in 2010 when, while greeting the President in front of a microphone, Biden dropped an F-bomb in his excitement about the healthcare bill). This refreshing and fearless rationalism gave me quite a pleasant surprise — this being the least likely type of surprise my interest in politics has so far gotten me.
Last Wednesday, during an ABC interview, President Obama said — point blank — “It is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”
For someone who, at the beginning of his presidency, said he only supported civil unions for gay couples — but his view on the matter was “evolving” — it’s clear to see this evolution is a large and important one. This will mark the first time a president has openly endorsed gay marriage while in office (and looking forward to a fierce re-election battle, no less). It’s a huge step forward for progress for LGBTQ civil liberties, and this massive admission has rocked the election base.
Regardless of whether or not Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage was an election move, it’s important to remember those words are not out in the ether. They exist. And for the rest of Mr. Obama’s term — and for the next should he be re-elected — he will be held to the standards he admitted to. Future legislation in favor of same-sex couples will have the president’s support behind it. Even down at the state level, where the president has little to no influence, the thought of “Well, the president thinks it’s okay” will exist.
Obama did something great for the future of equality, even if it wasn’t a piece of legislation or a signed bill. It’s a mindset, and one the most powerful man in the world not only has but also admitted to having.
(I’d also like to thank Vice President Biden for unwittingly forcing Obama’s hand.)