Editorial: Obama bravely unlocks civil rights closet

Juliana Moraes-Liu, Author


President Barack Obama recently announced his personal support for gay couples to marry. Despite the political rewards and risks associated with the announcement, The Paly Voice recognizes the significance of the president’s action and applauds his bold move. Image licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 2.0.

– Christopher Dilts for Organizing for America

As disillusionment toward Washington grows in the minds of teens and everyday Americans, it becomes too easy to forget that the president has the ability to take a stand in favor of our rights.

On Monday, President Barack Obama did just that when he announced his personal support for gay couples to marry.

Despite former Vice President Dick Cheney’s public support for same sex-couples and current Vice President Joe Biden’s recent declaration that he would be “absolutely comfortable” with gay marriage, Obama’s statement marks the first time the President of the United States has publicly come out in favor of that basic right.

The statement may signal the end of Obama’s “evolving” position on the topic and the beginning of renewed gay and lesbian support for the president. Obama had previously supported full marriage equality as an Illinois State Senator, but later retracted and opted for civil unions instead as a US Senator.

The Paly Voice recognizes the significance of the president’s action and applauds his bold move. Obama’s new position is one to rally behind — the denial of the right for gay Americans to marry is unreasonable, unnecessary and behind the times. Despite the political rewards and risks associated with Obama’s evolved position, it marks a significant milestone in the gay and lesbian community’s quest to gain equal recognition and rights from the government.

Yet Obama’s announcement strikes even deeper tones for a specific electorate disappointed by partisan gridlock and petty politics. When students — like those of Palo Alto High School — watch the partisanship-fueled inaction of Washington, it often sparks sentiments of disgust, helplessness and eventual lack of interest in government. Now, more than ever, we need interest in politics to not only hold politicians accountable for their actions, but also to ensure that the government does not unreasonably curtail our rights. Obama’s announcement has already and will continue to draw young Americans back into political discussions, restoring for them at least a morsel of confidence back into our democracy.

Rosy merits aside, there’s no denying that potential political benefits are at play in the middle of an election year — President Obama’s every move is carefully calculated to maximize gain and minimize damage. The president’s announcement comes only after public opinion has steadily gravitated toward supporting gay marriage equality, and will undoubtedly help him energize the liberal base. As an added bonus, Obama’s new position will likely sweeten financial contributions for his reelection campaign; already, one in six Obama campaign donors is gay, according to The Washington Post.

While some have accused Obama of making his announcement solely for political gain, his move is arguably just as risky. Throwing his support behind marriage equality could alienate African-Americans and socially-conservative Latino voters; both groups are cool toward gay marriage rights and will be vital to Obama’s reelection chances. His announcement may prove even more dicey in light of strong opposition to gay marriage measures in key battleground states such as North Carolina, Colorado, Ohio and Florida. Recent national polls show that, despite shifting public opinion, the nation is still evenly divided over gay marriage rights.

Ultimately, however, Obama’s decision is more than just politics: it’s a precedent that will put him on the right side of history. As teenagers struggling to define our own views on the issues of our time, it is encouraging to see that somebody in Washington has the courage, if not the opportunity, to finally make a civil, right stand.