Obama announced last Wednesday that, after a personal journey, he had come to the conclusion that same-sex marriage was just, following years of pressure from LGBT advocates to back marriage equality.
While many LGBTs and allies welcomed the news, some criticized how long it took for the president to reach his decision.
“I share people’s impatience with the evolving process but in the end I don’t think it’ll make a difference whether he did it now or three months ago,” said state Sen. Daylin Leach (D-17th Dist.), who is spearheading the state’s marriage-equality bill. “The most important thing is that he did it.”
Lee Carson, co-chair of the Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club, also said the timing should not be tantamount.
Carson noted that the marriage-equality backing rounds out the president’s successful LGBT record, which includes the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and an array of federal LGBT policy changes.
“He’s done more for the LGBT community than any other president has done, so I think people need to stop worrying about if he should have done this sooner,” Carson said. “He’s done so much for our community on top of having to deal with the economy, which is the biggest issue that the majority of Americans care about. He has a lot of major issues to be dealing with, so I’m fine with the timing of this.”
Issues such as the economy may alleviate any potential negative impact the president’s support could have on conservative Pennsylvania voters, said Equality PA executive director Ted Martin.
“This isn’t the only issue Pennsylvania voters are going to vote on,” Martin said. “If anything, this may just make a close election a little closer.”
Obama supporters are hoping to counter any loss of votes with a renewed vigor among LGBTs and allies.
Carson said he’s eager for the announcement to sway apathetic left-leaning voters to the polls for Obama in November.
“I hope that people who were on the fence about him, particularly LGBT communities, will be energized,” he said. “No matter how you feel about President Obama, what’s the alternative, Mitt Romney? It’s not necessarily a matter of people voting for Romney, but rather the fear that people just won’t vote at all. With the new voter-ID law going into effect, the president can’t afford to have eligible voters sit out.”
Obama’s announcement was met with a tempered response from many Republican leaders, such as presumptive Republican presidential nominee Romney, who reaffirmed that he was opposed to same-sex marriage but called the issue “a very tender and sensitive topic.”
Jim Burn, chair of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, said in a statement to PGN that Obama’s decision highlights the antigay record of Romney — who opposes marriage equality and civil unions and is in favor of a federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
“Americans who are in loving, committed relationships should be treated equally under the law,” Burn said. “While the president is standing up for the rights of Americans, Mitt Romney would roll back important protections for Americans. The positions of the president and Mitt Romney stand in stark contrast: The president wants to treat all Americans equally; Mitt Romney wants to deny equal rights for Americans.”
Martin said he hopes the president’s support will help “drag Pennsylvania’s Republican Party more toward the middle.”
“He is the president of the United States, so regardless of your party, this has to make people who oppose marriage equality stop and think,” Martin said.
David Freed, Republican nominee for Pennsylvania Attorney General, said last week when asked by a reporter about a potential constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in the state, that the Attorney General should not be involved in “policy debates,” but said he would instead evaluate the constitutionality of whatever measure the legislature passes.
Conversely, the state’s Democratic nominee for Attorney General, Kathleen Kane, issued a statement applauding the president for his “strong stand on marriage equality for all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation,” pledging to “vigilantly protect the rights of all Pennsylvania citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation.”
Leach acknowledged that the president’s support will not be an immediate impetus for the approval of his marriage bill.
“It’s going to take a while,” he said. “Pennsylvania is an outlier in terms of social issues. If you look at the rest of the Northeast — in terms of not just marriage equality, but antidiscrimination, hate-crimes protections — we are really out of step with the rest of the region. I hope we’re now one day closer to bringing basic human-rights protections to every citizen, but Pennsylvania will not be an easy nut to crack and I think we are going to be lagging a bit longer.”
While tangible LGBT progress may still elude Pennsylvania, Martin said that last week’s development was effective in opening dialogue about both marriage equality and the other rights denied to LGBT Pennsylvanians.
“In all of the conversations I’ve had in the last week about this, I have been able to highlight just how badly Pennsylvania protects its LGBT citizens,” he said. “People will ask me about marriage, and I have to remind them that you can still be fired or evicted in Pennsylvania for being gay and that we have no hate-crimes protections.”
Jen Colletta can be reached at email@example.com.