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Why the free pass for Obama on gay marriage?

Democrats say that changing marriage laws is a national issue, but they avoid putting their president on the spot. So, he gets easy treatment while Rob McKenna is blasted by the very same people for taking the same position.

Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla

Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla State House of Representatives

President Obama delivers the 2012 State of the Union address to Congress.

President Obama delivers the 2012 State of the Union address to Congress. Pete Souza/White House

Earlier this month, Gov. Christine Gregoire publicly urged her New Jersey counterpart, Republican Chris Christie, to change his mind and join her in supporting same sex marriage. And why not?  She knows that the issue has gone national.

When state Senator Ed Murray, the leader of marriage equality in Olympia, joined me on KOMO Newsradio, he emphasized that same sex marriage was ultimately a federal issue, a point repeated by virtually every prominent supporter of Washington's marriage equality law. When Rick Santorum brought his presidential campaign to western Washington last week, the issue came up more than any other in the media.

Which raises an interesting issue. If same sex marriage is important enough to put Chris Christie and Rick Santorum on the spot, why not President Barack Obama?  Did everyone suddenly forget that he, too, opposes same sex marriage?

The president visited Everett, Medina and Bellevue last week, but no one asked him why he would not champion the issue as Gov. Gregoire has this year.

Team Obama was probably prepared to say that the President respects and supports the decision of the legislature and governor. But supporting local decision making is not the same as declaring yourself: Why does Obama refuse to step forward on this issue?

The national media and the Democratic establishment in both Washingtons are giving the president a pass. After all, he's been stellar in supporting an overhaul of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (which he brought up at his Westin speech), and he's appointed several gays to high-ranking positions in the administration. But a double standard has now emerged: Democratic State Chairman Dwight Pelz loudly attacks Rob McKenna as a callous bigot for not supporting gay marriage, but he's silent about Obama, whose position is the same as the attorney general's. Yet who could do more to advance the issue, the president of the United States or a candidate for governor?

The reason the president and his party establishment is ducking and covering, of course, is politics. Supporting gay nuptials might cost the president votes in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, New Mexico, Virginia, and Colorado, states he will need to carry next November.  Speaking up at a time like this would not be easy for him. But how easy was it for state Sen. Joe Fain from Kent, Reagan Dunn, who is running statewide for attorney general, or legislator Maureen Walsh, from eastern Washington who supported same sex marriage in a district that opposed it at the polls nearly 2-1.  All three are Republicans.  If they stepped forward, why can't President Obama?

At least Santorum candidly, and diplomatically, spoke up. Shouldn't we expect the same from the President? Just a week ago, some of the very people cheering his apperance here were hailing the passage of the marriage equality act as historic. If that is true, and if they believe marriage equality to be a national issue, why let the president breeze into town and not utter a word about it?

I guess it's easy to be outspoken about the urgency of same sex marriage in Seattle, or even King County. But look how quickly the Democratic establishment goes quiet when bigger constituencies are in play. Rather odd for a Party that claims that same sex marriage is a matter of high principle.

John Carlson hosts The Commute With Carlson weekday mornings from 5 to 9 a.m. on 570 KVI AM. Reach him at jcarlson@kvi.com.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Feb 21, 10:19 a.m. Inappropriate

John Carlson is ignoring a crucial fact. President Obama and his administration have disavowed the federal Defense of Marriage Act, calling it unconstitutional, and are refusing to defend it in the current federal court challenge. That's a hugely different position from the Republicans. If DOMA falls, as it very well could, every state would have to recognize legal same-sex marriages from other states, which changes the whole ball game. And that would end the prohibition against the federal government recognizing same-sex marriage for federal purposes such as Social Security benefits, federal employee benefits, joint tax filings, etc. That was a very progressive position for Obama to take even if he still pays lip service to opposing same-sex marriage. Carlson needs to rewrite his piece.

Posted Tue, Feb 21, 10:33 a.m. Inappropriate

Good question, and I myself had forgotten that a few years ago, Obama, perhaps going with his natural inclination to carve out a cautious, moderate-sounding position, endorsed almost everything short of gay marriage.

Of course, for reasons outlined in this article, gay marriage is still a dangerous element in the national campaign for the DNC. I don't want to see it either, partly because it will hurt the president's re-election campaign in key swing states, and partly because gay marriage is an issue of far less importance than the federal budget and key foreign policy decisions.

But if gay marriage in itself is not a winning issue, it is still possible to tar Republicans as bigots. It is somewhat distasteful to use the homosexuality issue as a sort of "bloody shirt", and probably not a wise strategy either; I suspect that the attack on Rob McKenna, in particular, will backfire. Even in Tennessee, where I now live, the state Democratic Party is getting in on the act. Admittedly, in light of such things such as Richard Floyd's notorious "bathroom bill", the attacks are a bit more justifiable.

Posted Tue, Feb 21, 12:22 p.m. Inappropriate

By a strange coincidence, today, the presidential politics of the double standard on social issues made the opinion page of the WSJ: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204909104577235471075318762.html

With both parties barking up the wrong tree on matters of far greater importance, the media is more than happy to provide the distractions to keep the rest of us as far off scent as possible. But for the internet.....

And even more curiously, today the WSJ offers an opinion on efforts at the UN to get the Internet under top-down thumbs as well: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204792404577229074023195322.html

afreeman

Posted Tue, Feb 21, 2:41 p.m. Inappropriate

Why would I rewrite a piece that Harris has just reinforced? Overturning DOMA simply throws the issue to the states. That's where it is already. As I pointed out (three times), supporters of same-sex marriage believe it to be a federal issue. But instead, the President publicly opposes marriage equality and kicks it to the states. The second half of my piece asks why the press and local Democratic establishment are not pressing Obama as they have others, even though Obama is in far greater position to advance the issue. The silence here is deafening -- and revealing.

Posted Tue, Feb 21, 2:58 p.m. Inappropriate

John, what you keep passing over is that if DOMA is overturned, gay people in states that don't allow same-sex marriage could simply go to any of the states where same-sex marriage is legal and recognized, get married, then return to their home states which then would have to recognize their married status, as would the federal government. Game over. You also passed over the fact that President Obama and congressional Dems, with worthy support from top military officials, ended don't ask don't tell. GOP leaders strongly opposed ending DADT. That was another huge step by Obama to support gay rights, and I'm sure that's another reason leaders in the gay community are reluctant to press Obama too hard to overtly support same-sex marriage. So I think you're ignoring the forest for the trees.

Posted Tue, Feb 21, 7:33 p.m. Inappropriate

Harris if that were the case, then why is Ed Murray and Equality Washington insisting that marriage equality is a federal issue? Have you considered that several states are passing laws and even amending their constitutions refusing to recoginize such unions?

Posted Tue, Feb 21, 7:51 p.m. Inappropriate

A thoughtful, provocative analysis, John. I'll wager that President Obama (perhaps wisely, albeit cynically) punts until after his re-election.

--Pete Jackson

Posted Tue, Feb 21, 8:43 p.m. Inappropriate

"several states are passing laws and even amending their constitutions refusing to recoginize such unions?"

They can pass laws and amend their constitutions until they're confederate grey in the face, the U.S. Constitution has explicit language on the matter-
http://www.usconstitution.net/const.html#A4Sec1
Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.

Perhaps Mr. Carlson is too busy with his Tea Party friends to read the document they keep saying the administration is trampling on.

NickBob

Posted Wed, Feb 22, 8:02 a.m. Inappropriate

Obama, Bill Clinton, and any other big fish democrat opposed to same gender marriage should be featured prominently in all advertising on the referendum and initiative to uphold the 5,000 year old definition of marriage....less pulpit and more dem infighting are the ways to win!!

animalal

Posted Wed, Feb 22, 9:03 a.m. Inappropriate

Wake up, NickBob. If the Constitution meant what you wish it meant, then the marriage equality issue would already be resolved. Seven states now have same sex marriage protection. Do you see gay marriage in all 50 states?

Posted Wed, Feb 22, 9:28 a.m. Inappropriate

John, let's now circle back to the key point you missed. Obama and his administration want to see the Defense of Marriage Act overturned on the grounds that it's unconstitutional. One major reason it's unconstitutional is that it's in direct conflict with the Constitution's "full faith and credit clause." The states and the feds have used DOMA to block recognition of same-sex marriages performed in states where it's legal. If DOMA is overturned, as Obama wants, all states would have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. NickBob was exactly right. What are you not getting here?

Posted Wed, Feb 22, 10:06 a.m. Inappropriate

Come on, guys, Constitutional arguments are WAY over Carlson's head. Gay marriage is a federal issue because Ed Murray says that it is. And Carlson is a talk-radio jock so he can scream longer and louder than you can. End of argument.

woofer

Posted Wed, Feb 22, 10:15 a.m. Inappropriate

This reminds me of something a UW prof said to me for a 2009 Crosscut article I wrote about the anti-health reform Tea Party protesters. Here's that quote:
http://crosscut.com/2009/08/18/health-medicine/19171/
David Domke, a professor of political communication at University of Washington, says it’s now almost impossible to introduce information within the conservative political network that contradicts the partisan messages promoted by Fox News, talk radio, and right-wing blogs. “The system is suspicious of everything outside the system, so any critiques from outside are immediately doubted,” he says.

Posted Wed, Feb 22, 10:18 a.m. Inappropriate

Harris, not defending DOMA doesn't render it null and void; repealing it does. And yet the President refuses to push for it. And if DOMA was in conflict with the "full faith and credit clause", it would have been successfully challenged on these grounds by marriage equality supporters long ago. Why do you think that hasn't happened yet?

Posted Wed, Feb 22, 10:51 a.m. Inappropriate

Interesting politics for political junkies.

But to be clear: This should not be a political issue.

People want to get married? Fine. From an independent Democrat's sometimes trending libertarian perspective, if people find love and want a ceremony to celebrate it,and they are doing me no harm, they should have the ceremony and live their lives in peace. And if society bestows certain benefits on these people, their sexuality should make no difference. DOMA is yet another DUMBA piece of social engineering enacted by those who want to impress their value system on others and have no business in doing so.

End of story.

Posted Wed, Feb 22, 11:19 a.m. Inappropriate

John, OK, at least now you're talking about DOMA and about the Obama administration's argument that it's unconstitutional. Good. Candidate Obama actually ran on a platform to repeal DOMA. A bill to repeal DOMA would never have passed Congress either when Republicans were in control or now, when they can filibuster in the Senate. And frankly, until fairly recently, a critical mass of Democrats supported DOMA (it was passed under Clinton). But now political support in the country is shifting fast in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage, certainly among Dems and even among moderate and center-right Republicans (at least in state legislatures). You can read the history of the legal challenges to DOMA, as well as Democratic bills to repeal DOMA. A number of lawsuits are pending. These efforts have been going on for several years now. DOMA is obviously in clear conflict with the Constitution.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defense_of_Marriage_Act

Posted Wed, Feb 22, 11:56 a.m. Inappropriate

Snus, just to remind you, DOMA, which you say was "enacted by those who want to impress their value system on others" was signed into law by Bill Clinton after being passed by a bipartisan Congress..

So let's review where we are, because this is getting fun (read the full comment thread). I write a piece pointing out the jarring double standard employed by Washington state Democrats and the news media in criticizing Republicans for opposing same sex marriage, but staying mum on the matter when Barack Obama, who also opposes it, comes to town that same week. Harris Meyer demurs, saying it's OK because Obama opposes DOMA, and that's just as good. I patiently point out why that is not the case. As Harris' argument wilts under scrutiny, debate is shucked, and the demonization begins. Woofer accuses me of "screaming" (how do you do that in writing?) and Harris, who appears to be drawing his expertise on DOMA from wikipedia, suggests that I am part of a right-wing talk machine. A wonderful display of the shallow mindset predominating Seattle liberalism.

Posted Wed, Feb 22, 12:08 p.m. Inappropriate

OK, if John Carlson thinks the preceding discussion proves his case, then I'm done with this. See Professor Domke's comments above.

Posted Wed, Feb 22, 7:53 p.m. Inappropriate

This in today:
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/23/us/ruling-adds-to-string-in-favor-of-same-sex-couples.html?hp

Posted Thu, Feb 23, 3:19 a.m. Inappropriate

Mr Carlson deserves an answer to his question. It's this- while the President's personal feelings on the subject of marriage are not in harmony with that of his base, his actions as an official give no indication that he would in any way act to block legislation or court actions to advance the rights of gays to live as human beings. This cannot be said of Santorum, Romney, Christie, or McKenna. If he's not a leader on this issue, it's clear he's not a roadblock.

As for his contention that that I'm not awake and my view of plain constitutional language is a "wish" (most substantial and unshallow rhetoric, that), it's early yet, the Supremes have yet to be cornered on this topic. I'm old enough to remember that if a couple wished for a quick and uncomplicated divorce, they would travel to Reno and proceed under Nevada law, the result being accepted everywhere else in the union that still enforced Victorian divorce standards within their own borders. Is Mr Carlson asserting that those marriages thus dissolved are still valid outside of Nevada? If not, by what principle does he assert that unbinding in one state is valid for all states but that binding in one is void in all others? Does his friend the state AG agree with his reasoning, and will he go on the record in that regard?

NickBob

Posted Thu, Feb 23, 11:05 a.m. Inappropriate

John - The fact that President Clinton signed DOMA is irrelevant to my point. Shame on Clinton. I demonize no one. The law should not extend to private lives.

Posted Thu, Feb 23, 5:05 p.m. Inappropriate

Seems as though the venerated Professor Domke's comments (whoever he is) as quoted by Mr. Meyer could just as easily pertain to liberals. However, I'm sure since he is a college professor, those comments are not just a glib opinion, but rather the result of years of dispassionate research peer-reviewed by world-class scholars. But then, I may just be gullible.

dbreneman

Posted Sat, Feb 25, 10:18 p.m. Inappropriate

If Obama sincerely believes that DOMA is unconstitutional, why is Edie Windsor suing the federal government? Edie was forced to pay $350,000 in estate taxes for property she inherited from her wife. (They had married in Massachusetts.) Federal estate tax law doesn't tax property inherited by a spouse. Mrs. Windsor is suing to recover her money -- why doesn't Obama's IRS just cut her a refund check because she is a victim of unconstitutional discrimination?

When Thomas Jefferson became President the Sedition Act was on the books and people who had been convicted of it were in jail or had paid fines. President Jefferson freed the incarcerated and refunded the fines. He didn't wait for them to sue and then not defend the action. He just did the right thing.

Obama is no Jefferson. If he sincerely believes that the widow Windsor was taxed unconstitutionally, he should reread his oath and give her a refund. Maybe the question about "double standard" should be, Why is Obama allowed to have one?

simorgh

Posted Thu, Mar 1, 10:01 a.m. Inappropriate

I wish the Full Faith and Credit would apply to gun laws as well as gay marriage. If I have a carry permit in Idaho, I should be able to carry in Chicago.

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