President Obama's announcement Wednesday of his evolving views on marriage equality can be met with an array of scoffing skepticism. Why did it take him so long? Didn't he already believe this and pretend not to for political reasons? If his stance had evolved, why was he waiting to say so? Will he actually act upon this in public policy or is was he carefully choosing words about this being a personal conviction? Did he do this just to appease donors? Why did he wait for polls, his party and Joe Biden to lead rather than leading himself?
Yet, despite all the cynicism and uncertainty about his motives and timing, and despite the fact that these are words and not action, I was genuinely excited.
I was happy in the way that melts away the cynicism, at least for an afternoon. I saw and heard the euphoria of friends - LGBT and allies - and how could I not be affected? I called my parents - not because this was a moment we'd been waiting for or because it was going to impact any of us directly, but because it felt like a notable moment in a historic arc that I wanted to share.
The president of the United State just came out for marriage equality. The last Democratic president signed the Defense of Marriage Act. John Kerry had to obfuscate and prevaricate as the subject was used to divide America. And yet now, in a relatively rapid march (that doesn't feel quick to those who are targeted by discriminatory laws), society has shifted, the debate has changed, and the leader of our country isn't taking a terrible risk to voice his support.
President Obama is not the leader on this issue. But he is our leader and one of the world's leaders, and therefore his stance is important. While we political junkies forget this, there are still many Americans who respect elected leaders and who will be moved by this announcement to evolve as well. There are people around the country for whom the "about time" quality of this shift will be a source of relief, affirmation and hope.
I don't have a strong sense of exactly the political calculus that made it happen know. I don't think a Biden gaffe changes presidential policy, or we'd be seeing such sudden moves far more often. Polls and donors played some roll; as did, in all likelihood, the president's own daughters growing up in a world with friends whose same-sex parents are as normal as everyone else's.
One poll that may have had special meaning: the dual realization that young American voters are identifying less as Democrats than they had four years ago, and more strongly for marriage equality than ever before. Even if this announcement isn't a sure thing for 2012, it is an investment in the future of the president's party.
The effect on November will be mixed (it's not a good way to keep North Carolina blue) - yet it does put Mitt Romney in a box. By appealing to his religious base he will chase moderates and young voters into Obama's camp while rallying the progressive base on the president's behalf. The more Romney is pushed to talk about marriage, the less he'll be talking about jobs, and the more distracted his campaign will become.
But if we can put politics aside for a minute - hard to do in the face of a political announcement on a political issue - it's just a mark that our country is moving the right direction. That's not true on every issue, so let's note when we make, for whatever reason, real progress.