No Homo: National Equality March, the Nobel Peace Prize, and Barack Obama

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.

Gay Marriage Protests

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.


11 thoughts on “No Homo: National Equality March, the Nobel Peace Prize, and Barack Obama

  1. My immediate reaction to this complaint is to say that It’s still possible for Obama to act. America is breaking his back over this health-care debate, the deadline for which was arbitrary and has only given Republicans reason to chide him further – and that childish chiding puzzlingly seems to impede legislative progress as of late. Wouldn’t any deviation from the healthcare issue, giveno ts intense visibility at the moment, just create more backlash?

    Also, to Barack’s credit, he did speak about gay rights on the tenth. I would assume you heard about that, though (

  2. It’s the context that matters though, isn’t it? Clinton made some equally convicted speeches during his presidency while actually standing for none of the sentiments he would offer support for in favorable company. I find the talk about a hate crime bill especially wrankling because it returns the shoe to the other foot, while leaving the most important issue of basic social legitimacy unaddressed. Who is advocating these ideas in places where they aren’t already believed? Isn’t that leadership, rather than ingratiating one’s self in company that’s already been convinced? You need not advocate for civil rights to a room filled with people from The Human Rights Campaign.

    Talking about this when accepting the Nobel Peace Prize could well be an historic and genuinely heroic act, something actually deserving of global recognition. And it will not happen.

  3. PS: One doesn’t learn how to become more “right” with age. If anything it’s quite the opposite, one becomes more and more crafty in splitting the hairs, compromising, and leaving for others the hard work of risking one’s own interests for the sake of a right and just cause. I’ve learned volumes as I’ve grown (and continue to do so daily), but it only serves to sharpen the edges of the same basic shape I’ve been convicted in since I can remember..

  4. Clinton recently changed his position:

    I know, I know. Lot of good it does NOW, but he did come around.

    “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.”

    I think that is dead-on, and it sounds like a terrible thing to do. But is there any way around it? The system almost requires that you choose a path of pragmatism rather than principle to get anything done.

  5. Overall a good article. I think you’re oversimplifying the significance of health care reform, but otherwise you make plenty of coherent and valid points. Myself, I don’t think the government should be involved in marriage at all — for gays or straights. That’s a bit of an oversimplification as well, but there ya go.

    • WOW. First, let me say to Aaron, I’m in that same camp! hm… I may have to blog about this myself… Anywho…

      I agree that is sickening and unfair how long this obstruction of rights has lasted (and will continue to last, unfortunately.)

      I also agree that it is a political liability, and I actually can’t personally blame Obama too much for that.
      The republicans are making even the most mundane issues (as you have noted)such as health care reform impossible to make progress on (of course the democrats aren’t being overly helpful to themselves either.) Obama would be facing the same political bog if he were to switch gears to gay rights, and combining both issues together would make his job impossible.

      I’m not saying Obama is blameless. He is the president. It is his responsibility. But I do understand.

  6. Mike: I understand your argument, and I definitely don’t disagree, but for some reason I find myself sympathizing with the lack of reaction towards this issue – what may seem like at a cultural boiling point to you or me may seem fine to simmer for months upon months to others. Maybe Wil’s right – the silence is calculated.

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