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Obama Challenged From Left on Gay Marriage

Sheryl Gay Stolberg tries to nudge Obama toward a more outspoken advocacy on gay issue, but still gives Obama a pass on his opposition to gay marriage because he's a Christian.

Thursday's White House Memo by Sheryl Gay Stolberg, "Gay Issues in View, Obama Is Pressed to Engage," challenged the president from the left about his relative silence on gay marriage, even as the issue has risen in several states:


President Obama was noticeably silent last month when the Iowa Supreme Court overturned the state's ban on same-sex marriage.


But now Mr. Obama - who has said he opposes same-sex marriage as a Christian but describes himself as a "fierce advocate of equality" for gay men and lesbians - is under pressure to engage on a variety of gay issues that are coming to the fore amid a dizzying pace of social, political, legal and legislative change.


Isn't it odd that Obama is given a bit of a pass for his opposition to gay marriage, on the grounds that he's a Christian? The same thing happened in a November story from just before the election that allowed Obama to couch his opposition in positive religious terms:


Several gay friends and wealthy gay donors to Senator Barack Obama have asked him over the years why, as a matter of logic and fairness, he opposes same-sex marriage even though he has condemned old miscegenation laws that would have barred his black father from marrying his white mother.


The difference, Mr. Obama has told them, is religion.


As a Christian - he is a member of the United Church of Christ - Mr. Obama believes that marriage is a sacred union, a blessing from God, and one that is intended for a man and a woman exclusively, according to these supporters and Obama campaign advisers. While he does not favor laws that ban same-sex marriage, and has said he is "open to the possibility" that his views may be "misguided," he does not support it and is not inclined to fight for it, his advisers say.


Senator John McCain also opposes same-sex marriage, but unlike Mr. Obama's, his position is influenced by generational and cultural experiences rather than a religious conviction, McCain advisers say.


Has the Times ever given a social conservative preacher the same pass on the grounds of "religious conviction"?


Back to Stolberg's "Memo," which turns up the heat on Obama to take a more aggressive stand on gay rights.


Two of Mr. Obama's potential Supreme Court nominees are openly gay; some advocates, irked that there are no gay men or lesbians in his cabinet, are mounting a campaign to influence his choice to replace Justice David H. Souter, who is retiring. Same-sex marriage is advancing in states - the latest to allow it is Maine - and a new flare-up in the District of Columbia could ultimately put the controversy in the lap of the president.


Mr. Obama's new global health initiative has infuriated activists who say he is not financing AIDS programs generously enough. And while the president has urged Congress to pass a hate crimes bill, a high priority for gay groups, he has delayed action on one of his key campaign promises, repealing the military's "don't ask, don't tell" rule.


Social issues like same-sex marriage bring together deeply held principles and flashpoint politics, and many gay activists, aware that Mr. Obama is also dealing with enormous challenges at home and overseas, have counseled patience.


But some are unsettled by what they see as the president's cautious approach. Many are still seething over his choice of the Rev. Rick Warren, the evangelical pastor who opposes same-sex marriage, to deliver the invocation at his inaugural, and remain suspicious of Mr. Obama's commitment to their cause.


Stolberg found no liberals among the gay activists, but identified "social conservatives":


And if he appoints a gay person to the Supreme Court, he would be viewed by social conservatives - including many black ministers, another of his core constituency groups - as putting a vote for same-sex marriage on the highest court in the land. Two gay women, Kathleen M. Sullivan and Pamela S. Karlan, both of Stanford Law School, have been suggested as potential nominees.


Stolberg concluded with giving Obama a gentle nudge toward embracing gay marriage:


Some say change is inevitable, not only for Mr. Obama but also for other Democratic politicians who have embraced civil unions but rejected same-sex marriage. Now that the Iowa ruling has pushed the battle into the nation's heartland, the issue will inevitably come up during the 2010 midterm elections and the 2012 presidential campaign.