If the election were held today, Barack Obama would capture an overwhelming majority of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender vote. Indeed, I believe that the LGBT community will be his most loyal block of supporters other than African Americans – and maybe Latinos if Republicans insist on passing more Arizona-type immigration laws.
This support was not a foregone conclusion. Obama’s relationship with the LGBT community has been much like a stormy marriage that is saved by the husband delivering bouquets of red roses only moments before the divorce papers arrive. With flowers in hand, the disillusioned spouse remembers why she fell in love in the first place.
The repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was a gigantic, magnificent bouquet that staved off a mutiny of LGBT voters. I’m still not sure if the Obama administration realizes how spellbindingly close it came to a catastrophe with the gay demographic. Without repeal, many LGBT people would have concluded that the Democrats were impotent and no different than the Republicans, so if they can’t get their rights, they might as well get a tax cut.
I disagree with this line of thinking because the Democrats are better on economic issues and generally believe in concepts like evolution and separation of church and state. However, it would have been an uphill struggle for the Democrats to explain why they deserved support when they could not get the job done while controlling all of Washington.
The absence of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell repeal would likely have rocked the gay establishment as well. I imagine staff shakeups at most of the major LGBT organizations and the ushering in of new strategic paradigms. We would also have seen a continued power shift to grass roots direct action groups who would bitterly vie for control of the movement.
However, the tumult was averted and the malcontents somewhat pacified because the president delivered on his promise to abolish the ban on gays in the military. It is true that Obama has not been the “fierce advocate” that he promised to be, but he has also not been a fair-weather friend. In a pivotal moment he came through, made good on his pledge and alleviated the deep anxiety of a community inured to betrayal.
While Obama is no longer viewed through rose-colored glasses, his delivery of the DADT roses saved the marriage and he enters this year’s State of the Union speech with LGBT support largely in tact. Sure, we are extremely disappointed that the Employment Nondiscrimination Act did not pass and that the Defense of Marriage Act is still on the books, but there is no doubt progress was made on Obama’s watch. At least we advanced enough to stop the nihilistic urge of some to support whatever Republican troglodyte is given the nomination in 2012.
Don’t get me wrong – the push for full-equality continues unabated and pressure will be rightfully applied to Obama and Congress until we become full and equal citizens. However, we all know that not much will get done at the national level with Republicans in control of the House. The larger roll played by Tea Party activists – which are really just recycled fundamentalist GOP ideologues rebranded with triangular hats – will not help matters.
The next opportunity for real progress will occur after Obama is presumably reelected (depending on the economy) and beats a Tea Party Republican who repels America with zany ideas. A cartoonish “conservative” topping the ticket might also drag down the entire GOP and lead to democrats gaining more seats in Congress – once again creating high hopes. (If you don’t think an extremist will win the GOP nomination, check out the recent elections in New Hampshire to see the direction of the Republican Party)
It will be fascinating to see if a second-term Obama, unencumbered with re-election, continues “evolving” to the point where he openly embraces marriage equality. Indeed, this is a question that will continue to follow the president throughout his tenure. Just this week, in fact, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs had to deflect a question on this topic. At a briefing, a reporter brought up the inconvenient fact that while running for the Illinois state senate in 1996, Obama supported marriage equality in a questionnaire for The Windy City Times.
Interest in this issue will only increase as public support rises. Today, the organization Freedom to Marry held a press conference reminding Americans that recent CNN and Associated Press polls showed that a majority of Americans now believe that same-sex couples should be able to get married. And Maryland may be on the cusp of legalizing marriage equality, bringing fairness to both the District of Columbia and its northern border.
The nation’s economy is still recovering and the political situation in America remains tense. But the state of the union with most LGBT voters – following a two-year rocky relationship – remains quite stable, although not entirely satisfying.
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”