Ahhh, the kabuki political dance on gay marriage has begun. This time it’s not between the Republican nominee’s stance on gay marriage as opposed to the Democratic nominee’s. It’s not even about where Mitt Romney stands on this hot-button topic and whether or not the conservative base will come and support him or not on this issue. The real wedge issue is whether or not President Obama has done himself any political harm with the Black community, given his recent support for gay marriage.
To be clear, I believe that the president is on the right side of history on this topic. Although polls show that most Americans are evenly divided on the issue of gay marriage, polls overwhelmingly support fair treatment of gays and lesbians through equal treatment under the law. I’m not just saying this because I’m a member of the gay and lesbian community. I’m saying it because gays and lesbians — like all Americans — should be treated equally and with dignity. You even hear and see a shift in language from many Republicans who for years demonized gays and lesbians are now using the equality word when mentioning their positions. It’s obvious that Republicans do not want to talk about this issue and get bogged down on social issues that have negatively defined the party. After the president came out with his position on marriage, Mitt Romney was repeatedly asked about his own personal position, which he quickly answered and pivoted quickly to the topic of the economy.
Like any group, the African-American community is not monolithic. Many political observers often make the mistake of stating that many in the African-American community; especially among members of the clergy, will punish President Obama this fall for his support of gay marriage. I don’t think it's that cut and dried. I think many within the African-American community will look at the president’s announcement through their own social lens and make a judgment call based on their perspective. Recent polling by Gallup has suggested that support for gay marriage is almost evenly split with 49 percent in support of gays being able to marry and about 51 percent against it. The attitudes toward gay marriage have shifted over the years, mainly because more and more heterosexuals find themselves personally working with or knowing someone such as a neighbor or family member who is gay. In other words, more and more Americans have personalized this issue based on their own reality views of the situation. African Americans are no different, and although some may punish this president on Election Day, there is no evidence in the recent polls that many will.
In times of leadership vacuums, presidents must fill that void. Dwight Eisenhower did it when Orville Faubus of Arkansas openly defied a federal court order to integrate Little Rock Central High, an all-white high school. Eisenhower’s act for the first time since Reconstruction allowed federal troops to be deployed to a former Confederate state. That was leadership in the midst of many who at that time disagreed with the president. Lyndon Johnson did it in 1964 when he signed the Civil Rights Bill into law. This fundamentally changed the culture of America by opening all public accommodations — hotels, restaurants and swimming pools — to all Americans regardless of race, color, religion or national origin. That was leadership, and once again we find ourselves at a crossroads were presidential leadership was needed, and one stood up for equality for all Americans.