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Fairport-E.Rochester Post
  • One View: The president's 'I do'

  • 'I think same-sex couples should be able to get married," President Obama said this past week. This page is where it has been previously on this subject, which is that all are entitled to equal protection under the law, as spelled out in a 14th Amendment that reads:

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  • 'I think same-sex couples should be able to get married," President Obama said this past week. This page is where it has been previously on this subject, which is that all are entitled to equal protection under the law, as spelled out in a 14th Amendment that reads:
    "... No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." Arguably that latter clause applies to marriage equality, as well. Arguably the Constitution, this nation's governing framework, means what it says. That has largely been the rationale used by this newspaper, and increasingly legislatures and courts, in justifying civil unions, which confer similar legal benefits. Distinction without a difference though "marriage" may largely if not entirely be, semantic exercise though this is to a degree, the word carries a cultural meaning and a moral weight for many that "civil union" doesn't, on both sides of this debate.
    It should be clarified that the president is expressing his opinion. He's not proposing legislation. He acknowledges that it's a states' rights issue. Churches are not being asked or compelled to do anything in conflict with their teachings on marriage, nor should they be.
    Nothing about this announcement comes as a surprise, with perhaps the exception of the election-year timing. Obama had been inching his way toward this conclusion. In 2010 he successfully advocated for Congress' repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" law that prevented the openly gay from serving in the military. Last year his Justice Department stopped enforcing the Defense of Marriage Act, which restricts marriage to male-female couples. Ultimately his vice president, Joe Biden, helped push him with his own support of same-sex unions on last Sunday's "Meet the Press."
    "I had hesitated on gay marriage in part because I thought that civil unions would be sufficient," Obama said in a hastily arranged TV interview. "I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people, the word marriage was something that invokes very powerful traditions and religious beliefs." Indeed, Obama said the Golden Rule - "treat others the way you would want to be treated" - helped him make up his mind.
    Predictably, the reaction ranged from plaudits for Obama's "watershed moment" to harsh rebukes from some religious leaders, notably evangelist Franklin Graham, who said that Obama had "shaken his fist at the same God who created and defined marriage." Rush Limbaugh also weighed in, saying the president is leading "a war on traditional marriage," though one could say his own four marriages - three of them failed - undermine his credibility in that department.
    Page 2 of 2 - It's difficult to say how this will play out politically. Six states and the District of Columbia permit same-sex marriages, with votes in three other states pending. Nine others, including Illinois, allow civil unions. Thirty-one - with North Carolina joining the club this week - have passed constitutional amendments forbidding gay nuptials. Even among some who believe Obama has done the right thing, there is faint praise, as he is viewed as following rather than leading on this issue.
    Polling now has a majority of Americans - especially those under age 40 - wondering what all the fuss is about. The latter may explain the rather tepid response from Mitt Romney and other Republican leaders, who were critical but largely expressed a desire to talk about the economy, instead. Staunch social conservatives won't vote for Obama anyway. Independents may still be in play. It's fascinating how these social issues - which by and large are the province of individual rather than government choices - have become so prominent in this campaign.
    If this is a hot topic in some corners it will be greeted with a shrug in others. Indeed, at virtually every civil rights juncture - women achieving the right to vote, desegregation of the armed forces, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, etc. - the dire predictions that not uncommonly accompanied those events did not come to pass. The U.S. military remains the most formidable fighting force in the world, with women and African-Americans and gays in the ranks, and many a general will say so. It is perhaps no coincidence that the nation's first black president and first black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Colin Powell) would ultimately "evolve" on this score. Who's on the right side of history? Is the late Illinois Sen. Everett Dirksen more favorably remembered for his pivotal role in passing the Civil Rights Act, or is segregationist Strom Thurmond, who opposed it?
    Obama may be the first president to have gone this far, but it's primarily a symbolic move. Ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court may get its swing. (Interestingly, in 1967 the Supreme Court ruled that no state could ban mixed-race marriages on the basis that "marriage is one of the 'basic civil rights of man.'")
    There is no question that marriage has for centuries been a cornerstone of the family infrastructure that has helped define civilization, and for the better. There also is little dispute that the institution has taken its lumps over the last several decades, judging by the divorce rate and those who bypass it altogether. But that has occurred without any help from homosexuals.
    So is the institution of marriage strengthened by the continued exclusion of those who have been denied access but now wish to take on not only its benefits but its binding responsibilities? How so?

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