By Marcus Johnson
Last week, Barack Obama became the first sitting president to support gay marriage. The initial thoughts from political pundits have been mixed, both of support and criticism. Some say it was a politically calculated move, while others say it is one that will hinder him politically. Either way, it is a landmark statement that deserves to be analyzed.
Over the past few decades, gay rights and gay marriage in particular have come to the forefront of the American political lexicon. Obviously, the divide on gay marriage has become increasingly polarized, as American politics today is also polarized. Republicans, desperate for the evangelical vote, have vehemently denied that gay Americans should be able to marry, and gain the rights that marriage entails. Democrats have supported the gay rights cause for the most part, but there are still some in the party who tread lightly around the issue. Until President Obama, no president in office had voiced support for the issue. But will supporting gay marriage hurt or help the President?
President Obama draws his core support from liberals, college students, women, and African Americans. Liberals, on the left side of the political spectrum, have been calling for the support of gay rights for decades. Young people, college students in particular, have been polled as having the highest support for gay marriage out of any age group. Women, likewise, have shown more support for gay marriage than men. Where the trend stops among Obama’s key supporters is at African Americans. The black vote is one of Obama’s most solid blocs, if not the most solid. Yet they oppose gay marriage the most widely and openly. In the vote for Amendment One in North Carolina that started this national debate (or just made it more tense), 60% of Black voters voted not to allow gay couples to marry. So the question we are left with is will supporting gay marriage hurt Barack Obama’s support in the black community?
Black voters do not support gay marriage in the numbers that Obama’s other constituents do, probably because they are the most religious bloc inside the group. Black voters are, on average, more socially conservative than their liberal counterparts in the Democratic Party. It would make sense that this move would hurt their support for the President. But it probably won’t. Under Barack Obama, black unemployment has skyrocketed to levels not seen in decades. Black families have lost much more money than whites during the Recession, a time that saw many black families move into poverty. There has been almost no black economic mobility during Obama’s presidency. Yet blacks still support Obama en masse, more solidly than almost any other bloc. If African Americans still show mass support of the President, even during such dire economic times for their own sake, why is there any reason to believe that will change because he now openly supports gay marriage?
Conservatives lament that this move will hurt Obama politically, and that it was a calculated political misfire. They are right that it was calculated, but wrong that it will hurt him. It is a calculated move that, after the North Carolina amendment, will fire up his base; a base that was dejected after his first term and in need of energy to come out and vote in November. It is unlikely to turn off the independents that were going to vote for him either. It won’t help him among conservatives or evangelicals, but they weren’t planning on voting Democratic anyway. Although he has done little in actual legislation, just voicing his support gives Obama something that no other President has done, and more rhetoric to use during the election.