Elections
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 3: President Barack Obama in the Rose Garden at the White House on May 3, 2012 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images) WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 3: President Barack Obama in the Rose Garden at the White House on May 3, 2012 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)  

Obama takes wide stance on gay marriage to placate voting blocs

Photo of Neil Munro
Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

President Barack Obama is staying in the gay marriage closet because he doesn’t want to alienate black voters or gay donors.

He’s refusing to confirm or deny that he would use a second term to champion new marriage rules that would allow same-sex couples to get marriage licenses.

“We respect the right of all people to have a personal opinion,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said on May 7 — a day after Vice President Joe Biden endorsed marriage for gays and lesbians.

“The president is the right person to describe his personal views. He said his views on this were evolving, and I don’t have an update on that,” Carney added.

Marriage is a tough dilemma for Obama because his base is deeply split: Strong majorities of black Americans oppose changing marriage rules to endorse same-sex couples. Like many other social conservatives, that community sees marriage as an institution to bind parents together and to their children.

That’s a popular position. Voters in more than 30 states — including liberal California — have used state-wide votes to solidify state support for the traditional view of marriage.

But many gays want to see White House endorsement of same-sex marriage because it would provide additional social validation of their relationships.

Wealthy gay donors are increasingly vital to Obama because Wall Street’s donors have closed their wallets to his campaign. In 2008, Wall Street was one of Obama’s primary sources of campaign funds.

The gay donors include gay activists such as software millionaire Tom Gill and Hollywood billionaire David Geffen, as well as many less wealthy gays. Their importance to the Democratic Party is illustrated by the fact that the Democratic National Committee’s treasurer, Andrew Tobias, is gay and has been in the job since 1999.

The importance will be underlined May 10 by a fundraiser at the home of Hollywood actor George Clooney. The event is expected to raise $6 million in donations from Hollywood players, including many gays and supporters of gay marriage.

To win in November, Obama needs a high turnout by black voters, but he also needs a high volume of gay donations before November.

To balance the black and gay blocs, Obama has repeatedly said that he opposes marriage for gays, and also that he is a champion of rights for gays.

That wide stance is increasingly difficult to maintain because gay leaders are using their clout to push for more public support, yet Obama needs to maintain high support among blacks to offset his declining popularity amid the stalled economy.

Black voter turnout will be key to any Obama victories in must-win states such as Florida, North Carolina and Virginia. In 2008, for example, he won North Carolina by just 0.3 percent, partly because of increased turnout among blacks.

Public support for same-sex marriage would also threaten Obama’s tenuous support among white swing voters.

“Only one definition of marriage can exist,” read a May 7 statement from the National Organization for Marriage. “Joe Biden just made gay marriage a major issue in the presidential contest in critical swing states whose voters have adopted marriage amendments — including Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and Nevada… [and] we will make sure that voters in these states, and others, know that if the Obama/Biden ticket is re-elected, our marriage laws will be at grave risk.”

Obama’s ambivalence was aggressively maintained on May 7 by Carney, who fended off numerous questions following the endorsement of marriage for gays by Biden and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Carney declined to explain his boss’ current views, despite reporters’ arguments that he should declare his views prior to the November election.

But Carney also insisted that Obama is strong defender of new legal rights for people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).

Obama “strongly oppose effort to restrict rights, to repeal rights, for same-sex couples,” Carney said. “This president has been extremely aggressive in support of LGBT rights… there a long, long list of actions that the administration has taken on behalf of LGBT citizens, and that record is something the administration is very proud of.”

“I just don’t have any more to give you on the president’s views, he told ABC’s Jake Tapper. “I just don’t have an update for you… he is an absolutely committed supporter of LGBT rights… it is a unparalleled record of support for LGBT citizens [and] he’l run on it.”

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