Washington: Since Barack Obama “came out of the closet” on the issue of same-sex marriage, the spotlight has turned not so much on one of the most contentious social issues, but on the president himself.
Inevitably seeing everything through the prism of poll politics in an election year, the chatterati have focused on how Obama’s declaration last week that gays and lesbians should be allowed to get married legally would affect his re-election prospects in November.
Obama’s “evolution” on gay marriage after years of hedging “is unlikely to matter, unless the election is close, as many now expect,” said Time magazine noting “social issues, including marriage, barely register” in opinion polls on the most important issues for America.
Obama’s presumptive Republican rival Mitt Romney himself has seemed hesitant to take on what he called a “tender” subject, though he did reiterate his view that marriage should be between a man and a woman.
But his one time closest rival turned reluctant supporter Rick Santorum has asked the former Massachusetts governor in a TV interview to “step up” and use the “very potent weapon” of same-sex marriage issue “and take advantage of a president who is very much out of touch with the values of America.”
In the midst of it all, Washington Post dug out a story about Romney as a prep school student in Michigan leading a “posse” of other boys to clip with a pair of scissors the long hair of “a soft-spoken new student” who “was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality.”
A commentator in New York Times called him “Mitt the menace” for the act which makes the “hate crime” convicted Indian American student Dharun Ravi’s filming of his Rutgers University roommate kissing another man with a webcam a walk in the park.
“Americans want a president who doesn’t target the weak, but valiantly seeks to protect them,” he concluded.
In Time’s view “Obama has timed his pivot relatively well” as recent polls have “found rapidly accelerating acceptance of gay marriage”. But it acknowledged “the danger for Obama comes not from broad trends, but specific caches of voters who are only likely to be decisive if the vote in key states is close.”
That was Obama’s dilemma for as many as 30 states prohibit same-sex marriage. The federal government also does not recognise it. Twelve other states recognise full or partial benefits for civil unions or domestic partnerships.
Only six states, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont, plus the national capital of Washington, D.C. issue same-sex marriage licences. Two other states, Washington and Maryland, have passed laws in 2012 to begin doing so, but each may be delayed or derailed by voters in November.
But the road to the White House itself is more likely to be paved by the shape of the economy.