A More Perfect Union

By embracing full marriage equality, President Obama both reflected and hastened real change on many fronts
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  May 18, 2012

SEA CHANGE With President Obama's announcement, many say, the tide has turned in the fight for
marriage equality. [Download poster version here.]

People will surely debate for years to come whether President Barack Obama's self-described "evolution" on universal, legal, same-sex marriage caused, or simply reflected, a turning point on the issue in the United States.

But there is little doubt that Obama's new position, expressed in a thoughtful interview with ABC's Robin Roberts, is a marker along a road that — more than ever before — seems to be leading eventually to full, nationwide marriage equality.

In practical terms, almost nothing changed. Obama proposed no action by his administration, either by executive order or through support for congressional legislation. He gave no indication that he would actively back state-level initiatives.

All he did was express his own personal opinion. And that, advocates say, changes everything.

"It was a sea change," says Arline Isaacson, who lobbied to get and keep same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. "Not in the law, but politically and culturally, the earth moved."

As a result, we can now see far more clearly where we are heading — even without a road map from Obama himself.

It is clear, for instance, that Democratic Party voters will from now on demand that the party fight for full equality of marriage.

We can predict that the steady march of states voting to ban same-sex marriage is nearing or has reached its furthest encroachment, and that the tide will turn toward revoking those bans, one by one, at the ballot box or in court.

And it is nearly certain that Obama's declaration will embolden many more people to speak up about themselves, their family members, and their friends — in exactly the kinds of conversations that we know lead to understanding and ultimately acceptance of gay relationships, in-cluding marriage.

"I think there is a turning point," says Lee Swislow, executive director of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) in Boston. "We're just not sure how steep it is, or where we are on that curve."

Obama's clear statement in support of same-sex marriage can be seen as a fulcrum in many respects — for the field of battle, for the Democratic party, for popular acceptance, and for the political calculus.

In each of these realms, the arc of history could be seen bending, but the path and ultimate destination remained uncertain. Now, it is possible to feel confident that — with continued diligence and vigilance, and not without setbacks along the way — we know, more likely than not, where the future lies.

While all this is true, we should not lose sight of what this is really about: the individuals, couples, and families trying to live their lives as they wish.

Until last week, the official position of the president of the United States was that their lives are wrong; more than that — that they should be outlawed from living those lives.

Today, they have the president's blessing and support.

"The thing that's surprised me is personal," says Marc Solomon, former executive director of MassEquality and now national campaign director for New York–based Freedom To Marry. "I didn't realize how important it would be to me personally to have the president come out and support a couple's right to marry. I feel almost lifted up — and a lot of people in the LGBT community feel that way."

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