On Wednesday, President Obama said in an ABC News interview that he believes "same sex couples should be able to get married."
I'm glad the president's views have finally evolved enough to catch up with equality and justice, but given the political sensitivities of this topic and the polarized times in which we find ourselves, I'd rather he make a much more full-throated and bold speech on marriage equality -- not because gay activists pressured him, not because the media dogged him, but because it's the right thing to do. Here is what I think he should say:
My fellow Americans, at its best, leadership is standing up for what you believe in, not standing with your finger in the wind. At its best, leadership is doing what is right, not necessarily what is popular.
Less than 50 years ago that the Supreme Court struck down laws that made it illegal in much of our country for a white person and a black person to marry. Under these laws, in many states, my own parents could never have wed. Those laws, on which we now look back with universal shame and disdain, were once as fiercely defended as they are now condemned. Far too many of our own ancestors used phony science and selective religion for the plain purpose of blatant discrimination.
History does judge kindly those who stand in the way of equality and justice nor those who foolishly repeat the mistakes of the past.
Like many of you, I am deeply in love with my spouse. That love isn’t about race or gender or sexual orientation --- it’s about a profound and special human connection that, particularly with so much hardship and struggle in our world, is precisely the kernel of light and joy that we should nurture and celebrate. If Michelle were white, I would fight any law or stigma that kept us apart. If one of my daughters is gay, I will fight any law or stigma that keep them from achieving full equality and happiness. As president, I should do no less and I will do no less.
Too many young people in our nation are told they are worth less than their peers because of their sexual orientation. If one more young gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered teen commits suicide while I’m president, that’s one too many. I can’t do everything to make them feel whole and confident, but I can ensure that the laws of our land send a clear message that a loving, committed relationship between a man and a man or a woman and a woman is legally and morally indistinguishable from my own marriage.
In the past, I have said that my feelings about marriage equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered couples were evolving. No one is perfect, certainly not me, and my own evolution has taken time---gratefully helped along by the many loving gay couples I have met, the moving advocacy of gay rights leaders and the infinitely more accepting attitudes of my daughters’ generation. And of course, polls tell us that the majority of all Americans now strongly support marriage equality. But that’s not reason enough---if those who fought to end slavery, integrate our schools and grant voting rights to women had waited on poll results, the pace of change would have been even more shamefully slow.
Abraham Lincoln once wrote that “when we were all the political slaves of King George and wanted to be free, we called the maxim that “all men are created equal” a self-evident truth; but now when we have grown fat, and have lost all dread of being slaves ourselves” we have become greedy to be the masters. Just as we pass opportunity from one generation to the next, in our ever-evolving “more perfect union” we expand the promise of America to include those previously excluded---slaves, women and now the LGBT community. Our Founding Fathers most certainly never envisioned black people and women voting, but they enshrined in our nation the values of inclusion and equality that made those changes possible---and make marriage equality possible today.
I realize that in many states in our union, voters have gone to the polls to strike down marriage equality, going so far as to amend state constitutions to enshrine inequality. But we should never, we must never put fundamental rights up for a vote. This invites the very tyranny of the majority that our Founders warned against. Our constitutions and governing laws must be shining beacons of justice, not weapons to wielded otherwise. As a nation, we write our laws not to codify our ugliest instincts but to safeguard against them, to ensure that whatever private impulses we might have whether toward violence or discrimination are not amplified in the public square but tempered, our general welfare and common good protected. As president, I will always strive to reflect the collective spirit of America at its best, not succumb to the divisiveness and fear mongering that lurk in our darkest moments.
My statement before you today has nothing to do with religion. I am a God-fearing, faithful Christian and like many of my brethren, I find no inconsistencies between supporting marriage equality and upholding the teachings of my faith. To the contrary, I cannot conceive of a God who would not want all his children, as he created them, to enjoy love and fulfillment however they choose. But that said, churches and congregations remain free to decide whether and how to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. That is not and will never be the concern of government. But under the official laws of this nation, the laws that decide hospital visitation rights and who gets Social Security benefits when a loved one dies, the laws that decide whether couples are treated equally and fairly, I will do everything in my power to ensure ours is a proud nation of justice, not discrimination.
In an election season, it becomes too easy for candidates like myself to focus on Election Day as though it is the goal. It never was and never will be. When I first ran for public office, I did so for the same reason that so many men and women --- Democrats and Republicans --- devote their lives to public service: to make a difference, to do right by our neighbors and our children and all of our grandchildren. No doubt my opponent will nonetheless try and score partisan points off my statement today. Go ahead. I will gladly run as the candidate of inclusion and equality against the candidate of backwards bigotry. That is a fight I’m willing to take on and confident I can win. But what’s more important is that America wins --- that we stand up together for our core values, the proposition that all of us are created equal and that we all deserve life, liberty and happiness.
God bless all of our families and God bless America.