Obama Brings Conservatives Out of the Closet

Call it the Obama effect. Since Obama's pitch-perfect announcement about same-sex marriage, supporting marriage equality is becoming practically chic. A cascade of voices has come out of the closet in favor of it, and hardly anyone has noticed. Obama gave cover—and a little push—to anyone who'd been on the fence. Really, once the president of the United States has gone there, why should the news media pay attention to the thoughts of minor political figures like, oh, Senator Harry Reid, the highest-ranking Mormon in the U.S. government and someone who has just a teensy bit of power to decide whether the Respect for Marriage Act (which would repeal DOMA) moves through the Senate? Or to the fact that the NAACP, an organization with a little bit of history on civil rights, has declared that equal marriage is a just and urgent civil-rights cause, required under the Fourteenth Amendment? (By the way, I loved the fact that the NAACP got out in front of any black church leaders who might organize a group statement against Obama.)

And as you may have heard by now, since Obama's announcement, public support for marriage equality has jumped sharply—especially among African Americans. For instance, the most recent Washington Post/ABC poll found that 53 percent of Americans believe that it should be legal for same-sex couples to marry, while only 39 percent disagree. More important, 39 percent are strongly in favor, while only 32 percent are strongly opposed—that's the first time polls have shown that more Americans feel strongly in favor than opposed. And here's the number that's surprising pundits: 59 percent of African Americans think same-sex marriage should be legal, a larger percentage than white folks. Before Obama's announcement, that number was 41 percent. Which suggests to me that a lot of blacks were thinking they should be opposed—that's what they heard at church—but either didn't really care or didn't know how to square this with their feelings toward a lesbian cousin or gay best friend. But as soon as Obama gave them a model of proud support, they were ready to jump. 

I've spoken to some marriage-quality advocates, and while they expected Obama's announcement to move public opinion on the issue, they didn't expect such a big shift so fast. Part of the reason, they suggest, is that it seems to have been delivered in precisely the right way to help other families think the issue through. Matt McTighe, chair of Mainers United for Marriage, told me that Obama's conversation echoed exactly what they hear in their discussions with potential voters: They thought civil unions would be enough, but their kids have friends whose parents are lesbian or gay; those families are great families, just like their own; after talking it over, they realized that there's no reason to deny them the same chance to make a lifetime commitment that's recognized and protected by law. A number of advocates say they think Obama's announcement has given ordinary folks a reason to think about it, ask themselves what they believe, and move from being neutral-but-nervous to being actively in favor of same-sex marriage. 

And now we get to the announcement that has my jaw bouncing off the floor: Colin Powell. The former Secretary of State is the one Republican that many liberals are willing to love. Not LGBT folks. He's the one who sold us out in 1993. When Bill Clinton wanted to allow lesbians and gay men to serve openly in the military, Colin Powell forced the country into 17 years of "don't ask, don't tell." A lot of people suffered. It's been hard to forgive. 

Now Colin Powell is in favor of marriage equality. That whooshing sound you hear is my head spinning. I have to go lie down now. 

Have I ever mentioned this? We're winning. 

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