Obama Comes Out for Marriage Equality

Three days after Joe Biden announced his support for same-sex marriage on Meet the Press, President Obama has done the same in an interview with ABC News:

I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.

For as much as this is an important moment in American political history, there are a few other things to remember. First, Obama has not endorsed marriage equality as a constitutional right or as a fundamental right. His position is marriage equality federalism; the government should leave decisions about same-sex marriage to the states. Obama’s statement leaves room for states like North Carolina and Virginia to discriminate against same-sex couples.

That said, there is tremendous symbolic value in taking this step. It will inspire marriage equality activists to work harder to persuade their friends and family. What’s more, as a political matter, this could help the president as he tries to reenergize young voters and increase turnout among his liberal base. And while some commenters have floated the idea that this could hurt Obama with African American voters, there are reasons for skepticism. Black opposition to gay marriage is statistically indistinguishable from support among the broader population, and there’s no evidence that same-sex marriage is a particularly salient issue for black voters.

To put all of this another way, Obama won’t sustain any damage from coming out for marriage equality, and might even benefit.