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The Daily Need

Keeping tabs on President Obama’s same-sex marriage endorsement

Jase Peeples watches a television broadcast of President Obama declaring his support of same-sex marriage Wednesday, May 9, 2012, at The Mix bar in San Francisco. Peeples, who has lived with his partner for nine years, welcomed the news. Photo: AP Photo/Ben Margot

A few weeks ago, nationally syndicated sex-advice columnist and LGBT rights activist Dan Savage discussed President Obama’s evolving attitudes toward gay marriage in a candid interview: “Barack Obama pretends that he opposes gay marriage and gay people are honor-bound to pretend to believe him.”

All that changed yesterday when the president told ABC News, “For me personally it is important … to go ahead and affirm that … same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

To understand why the White House decided to back marriage equality at the start of a fraught general election season, I spoke with Richard Kim, executive editor at The Nation, who has written extensively about LGBT issues.

The truth, says Kim, is that no one knows for sure why the president and his advisors chose this moment to come out in favor of same-sex marriage. But he’s certain that they would never have made such a move if they thought it could hurt them in an election year.

In fact, he thinks there may even be an upside to this seemingly risky move. “Independents now support same-sex marriage. Young people — voters that Obama needs to energize —support same-sex marriage. So that, I think, you know, clearly is a factor that says this is a political winner for them,” says Kim.

The president’s remarks may also serve the purpose of solidifying the Democratic platform for 2012, which Kim believes will certainly include support for same-sex marriage. “It is true that through the Democratic Party, there was a fight brewing about the platform, and this would certainly make that easier for the Obama administration.”

The outspoken support of a sitting-president does signal a momentous shift in the conversation on same-sex marriage and LGBT rights. But the sobering reality, Kim says, is that the president’s words don’t affect any immediate changes in the lives of gay and lesbian couples in the United States.

“What Obama said does fall short, technically, of a full embrace of marriage equality. He said he personally is in favor of it, but that he wants to leave the decisions up to the states. And, you know, that essentially preserves the current status quo, where you have all these states that don’t recognize same-sex marriage… A states’ rights approach cannot actually secure full marriage rights for… gay Americans.”

Savage made this point as well. In a blog post, not long after news of the president’s statement came out, he wrote, “as delighted as I am by this news — and I’m freakin’ delighted — I’m nevertheless disappointed that the president’s support for marriage equality doesn’t extend to same-sex couples in North Carolina and other states that have already banned same-sex marriage.”

In this video, Savage discusses his views towards Barack Obama’s policies towards the LGBT community a few weeks before the president’s statement on same-sex marriage: