On May 9, President Barack Obama made a public statement in support of gay marriage, saying that his hesitation to take a firm stance came from a belief that civil unions would defend couples’ rights and a recognition that many Americans feel that the word marriage invokes certain traditions. Newsweek soon after proclaimed Obama as the ‘first gay president’.
Since then, Obama’s statement has remained a hot topic. While many same-sex marriage supporters have expressed enthusiasm for his public support for equal recognition and rights for those in committed relationships, others are less impressed, insisting that the president’s remarks are no more than a political move so close to elections, including that the president has done little to address issues more critical to LGBT communities of color, such as affordable housing, homelessness, and the unjust incarceration and violence against transgender women of color.
People on all sides of the debate wonder how his statement will affect Obama’s ratings as he campaigns for re-election. Currently, 61% of Americans under the age of 40 approve same-sex marriage. The New York Times/CBS conducted a poll and found that 67% of respondents said that they believe he made the statement “mostly for political reasons”. While the majority of those polled claim their vote will not be influenced by Obama’s statement, 16% said they would be more likely to vote for him while 26% said they would be less likely.
Incidentally, around the time of the last presidential election, the right to marry was debated through Proposition 8, which revoked the recognition of same-sex marriages in California. Some LGBT activists blamed black, Latino, Asian American, and Christian voters for the passing of Prop 8, which created internal tension between communities of color, religious communities, and queer communities.
However, the Human Rights Campaign recently published documents belonging to the National Organization for Marriage which provided evidence that race-baiting has been deployed as a strategy to gain same-sex marriage opposition from the black and Latino communities. The document contained the following statements:
The strategic goal of this project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks – two key Democratic constituencies. We must interrupt this process of assimilation by making support for marriage a key badge of Latino identity – a symbol of resistance to inappropriate assimilation.
Despite these efforts to fragment communities of color along the same-sex marriage issue, the Pew Research Center found that support for same-sex marriage actually increased in the black community, from 26% in 2008 to 39% in 2012. Opposition has decreased from 63% in 2008 to 49% in 2012.
A number of black celebrities and other public figures have since made their own statements about Obama’s stance.
Jay-Z, hip hop artist, said of same-sex marriage:
I’ve always thought it as something that was still, um, holding the country back. What people do in their own homes is their business and you can choose to love whoever you love. That’s their business. … It’s is no different than discriminating against blacks. It’s discrimination plain and simple.” In regards to the concern that Obama’s statement will cost him votes, Jay-Z said, “I think it’s the right thing to do. Whether it cost him votes or not, again it’s really not about votes, it’s about people. Whether it cost him votes or not, I think it’s the right thing to do as a human being.
Will Smith, musician and actor, also showed support:
If anybody can find someone to love them and to help them through this difficult thing that we call life, I support that in any shape or form.
Manny Pacquiao, professional boxer and politician, wasn’t as thrilled with the news:
I’m not against gay people … I have a relative who is also gay. We can’t help it if they were born that way. What I’m critical of … are actions that violate the word of God… same sex marriage is against the law of God.”
On the flip side, Floyd Mayweather, boxer and Pacquiao opponent, said:
I stand behind President Obama and support gay marriage. I’m an American citizen and I believe people should live their life the way they want.
Meanwhile, if you haven’t heard, dancehall kingpin Beenie Man apologized for his gay-bashing songs in a YouTube video, after 10 years of acricmony with gay rights groups. The video was posted yesterday on rototomsunsplash.com, website of the popular summer reggae festival. The organizers posted the video along with the following statement:
We have received and we are happy to publish a video message of Beenie Man in which he wishes to clear out any doubt about his position concerning homophobic lyrics appearing in some of his old songs. We would like to think that his words can put an end to all the controversies that the subject has generated.
It’s probably going to take more than just one YouTube video to “put an end to the controversy” but, hey, it’s a start.
Outspoken hip hop artist Kanye West, ex-boyfriend of openly bisexual model Amber Rose, has not commented, but we can only assume he would have said something like this:
Obama, I’mma let you finish your second term, but James Buchanan was the best gay president of all time!