I went to a wedding in Missouri last year, and saw one of my closest lady friends from Peace Corps marry another woman. It was a small ceremony on the roof of a five story brick building a few miles away from downtown. My friend wore a long, white dress and bubbled over herself with blushing cheeks and an uncontained smile. Her wife came down the aisle in a suit, holding onto her father’s arm. It was a small ceremony, less than forty people pressed against each other on folding wooden chairs with the sun going down against our backs.
In 2004, 70% of the people of Missouri passed an amendment to the state constitution that banned gay marriage. Four years later I was watching one of my favorite people in the world oppose the democratically determined law of the state in which she was born and raised; to marry a woman she loved.
One of the ironies of Obama’s election last year was the next wave of anti-gay state legislation that sailed through the polls around the country. Arkansas declared gay couples cannot adopt children. Arizona and Florida banned gay marriage. Even California, the bellwether of American laissez faire, the old arena of Cesar Chavez, the place that nurtured the Black Panthers, the Hell’s Angels, and Timothy Leary; this state of cultural independence and insubordination, chose by popular fiat to define marriage as something for one man and one woman.
In 1996 Bill Clinton, the last celebrity president to dampen Democratic underpants around the nation told The Advocate, “I remain opposed to same-sex marriage. I believe marriage is an institution for the union of a man and a woman. This has been my long-standing position, and it is not being reviewed or reconsidered.”
A decade later, a new Democratic hero, just lauded with a Nobel Peace Prize, remains silent on the national stage about any potential plans to tear down the unjust bindings on people of a specific sexual preference. The debate is insane and lacks any moral or logical weight. It comes from a religious text that is defined by levels of hypocrisy that now thinking person should be asked to accept as legal precedent, irrespective of the valor of personal faith. The bible must not be the source code for any American law.
Many of these rights so innate that you don’t even realize you’ve had them until someone takes them away from you. In Florida last February, the newly enacted state law to not recognize same sex marriage, even in couples from states where the practice is legal, deprived a woman of seeing her wife and children during her last hours on earth.
Lisa Pond collapsed on a cruise ship just getting ready to pull out to sea from Miami. She was with her wife and their four adopted children. Pond was rushed off the ship and taken to Jackson Memorial Hostpital where she would later die. As her wife Janice tried to follow along the gurney as it came off the ambulance a hospital staff member stopped her and asked her to stay in the waiting area. Pond had no other family members present, and Janice offered proof of the Durable Powers of Attorney that she had signed with Pond, but the hospital was insistent. Only blood relatives or a husband would be allowed to see Pond. The next morning Pond was declared brain dead.
In his inauguration speech, Obama made passing reference to gays. Candidate Obama called the 1996’s Defense of Marriage Act “abhorrent.” In eight months in office he has issued a presidential order to close Guantanamo Bay, pushed through the biggest piece of financial legislation in the history of the country, and forced the country into a debate on whether or not the government should become a health insurance provider. And yet, he has failed to challenge the Defense of Marriage Act and his Defense Department, like Bush’s and Clinton’s, is actively supporting the policy as legitimate American law, despite its having been declared unconstitutional in a number of state circuit courts.
This is the mundane nature of politics, picking a handful of issues worth fighting for from an overflowing bushel. What’s sad is that Obama has not spoken out about any of this. How can anyone of conscience be a leader of a country that so indifferently deprives its citizens of something so fundamental as legal partnership and not even speak about it? It’s not the president’s place to meddle in state laws and amendments, and the Justice Department can’t be expected to issue briefings in direct opposition to American law.
This is an old issue, and it’s one that deserves public reckoning. It’s one we argue over all around the country, in millions of quibbles and drawing room debates. And it’s one that’s not even on the president’s agenda, at this point. It’s a political liability. Just as Clinton advised John Kerry to support gay marriage bans for pick-up in the polls, Obama’s silence is a calculation.
The man who once chastised his own community, in a church no less, for having been unkind to their gay “brothers and sisters” is now absent from the overdue cause of ending government-sponsored discrimination. I voted for Obama, but I remain cynical about his presidency. In his first year, unemployment has gone from six percent to ten percent. He’s made a national debate of a marginal policy about the creation of a government bloc (another one, there are already two) to offer health insurance to less than 5% of the total population.
In truth, I am ashamed of Obama on this. I watched a woman, barely thirty, climb on to the top of a building in the middle of the South, and took another woman as her wife, in a state where she was suborning the law. How can I consider any president who contributes to her position as someone beneath the law, susceptible to cruel separation from her wife in time of death, placing no legal claims in their ability to raise children or build a lifelong financial partnership, a moral and courageous man?
Someone who accepts political credit on one immoral issue so that he can transform them it policy on another, more preferable issue. I’m an uninsured freelance writer. I make $20,000 a year and live in Manhattan. I don’t want health insurance from a country that won’t provide those basic rights to its citizens, so fundamental I wouldn’t have even known they were there until reaching for them in a time of crisis.
During the campaign, candidate Obama said change doesn’t come from Washington, it comes to Washington. On this issue, the proponents of change return to Washington again and again, in show of their readiness and persistence. And the door remains shut in their face.