Obama Believes in Same-Sex Marriage
President Barack Obama announced on national television yesterday that he supports every adult’s right to same-sex marriage — that a woman should be allowed to marry a woman and a man should be allowed to marry a man.
This is the first time in history that a sitting president has ever officially expressed such support. According to The New York Times , President Obama took a stand “on what may be the great civil rights struggle of our time.”
It is considered a matter of basic civil or citizens’ rights because in much of the country, couples of the same gender are not treated equally, either under the law or in the way society and culture thinks about them — both important considerations.
President Obama said his decision had a lot to do with his children, Sasha and Malia: ” They’ve got friends whose parents are same-sex couples … There have been times where Michelle and I have been sitting around the dinner table. And we’ve been talking about their friends and their parents. And … it wouldn’t dawn on [Malia and Sasha] that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated differently. It doesn’t make sense to them. And, frankly, that’s the kind of thing that prompts a change of perspective. You know, not wanting to somehow explain to your child why somebody should be treated differently when it comes to the eyes of the law.”
The topic of same-sex marriage has been controversial in the United States for many years. It is an issue that many people and families feel very strongly about, one way or the other, and often because of religious views. President Obama had been unsure of his own position for many years and said his views had been “evolving”. You can click here to see his interview with ABC News .
Although a lot people are talking about President Obama’s announcement yesterday, it doesn’t change any laws for the time being. There is a federal law called the the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. But, historically, the decision of whether same-sex couples are allowed to marry is something decided by each individual state. Six states, such as New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and the nation’s capital have legalized the right of same-sex couples to marry. Other state legislatures, such as Maryland and Washington, have passed similar laws that have yet to take effect.
A few states, like California, have gone back and forth. Other states permit “civil unions” and “domestic partnerships”. These recognize committed same-sex relationships but get complicated.
Thirty one states have constitutional amendments (made changes to the law) that make this kind of marriage against the law. You can see a current map here .
There is a legal difference between a “marriage” and a “civil union”. For example, couples in a civil union may not be allowed to visit their loved one in the hospital or make a medical decision to help save their life. And a same-sex couple who is “married” in one state may not be considered married in another. These are just a few examples of why this is an important and complicated subject for the country.
There is also more to it than just legal rights. The word “marriage” has strong meaning to most people. Those who oppose same-sex marriages believe that marriage is an “institution” — a long-standing, important, and sacred tradition and that it should only be between a man and a woman. Some people, however, think it’s fine for a same-sex couple to be together as long as they don’t get to use the word “married”. Same-sex couples who want to get married feel just as strongly about the importance of marriage and their right to have what all married couples enjoy. So there is a range of strong opinions.
Many people have noted that President Obama clarified his view while he’s running for re-election. When a candidate — especially one trying to represent all Americans — takes a clear stand on an issue that generally divides people, it can help win … and lose … votes.
President Obama already has the support of many of the groups who support same-sex marriages. While the president had opposed same-sex marriage when he ran for president in 2008, he did believe in civil unions and worked toward giving same-sex couples many of the same rights as couples in traditional marriages. So, what impact this will have on his re-election remains to be seen, but The New York Times reported today that seven of nine states that are expected to be close in the presidential election are against same-sex marriage.
That may work to the advantage of Mitt Romney, who is expected to be President Obama’s challenger from the Republican Party. Mr. Romney does not support same-sex marriage or civil unions (that convey the same legal rights as a marriage would). And just two days ago, a majority of voters of the state of North Carolina voted to ban all same-sex marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnerships.
Citizens make their choice for president for many reasons and this may or may not be important to many voters. Either way, the economy — trying to make sure people have enough jobs and money — will likely remain the biggest election issue.
Some legal experts believe that because of the many legal differences among states, the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately make a ruling for the whole country in the future. The Supreme Court already ruled once, in a landmark case in 1967, that “marriage is one of the basic civil rights of man.”
No matter which side of this issue people are on, or what their politics are, we can generally agree with what President Obama said about sharing the “underlying values that we care so deeply about when we describe family, commitment, responsibility, looking after one another, and … teaching our kids to be responsible citizens.” But for now, opinions on how to achieve that will vary and the definition of marriage and family will continue to be a hot topic of news and political discussion across this diverse country.
HTE World and Politics Editor Lukas Haynes contributed to this report.