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Why the free pass for Obama on gay marriage?

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

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