Once again President Barack Obama has come tantalizingly close to being terrific. But his failure of courage on the gay marriage issue, in the end, undermined the point he hoped to make Wednesday. As with his prior rhetorical flashes of principle in denouncing torture, commiserating with the victims of Wall Street fraud and resolving to end unjustifiable wars, he quickly waffled and the result was a continuation of that which is fundamentally wrong.
There is only one essential point to be made about gay marriage: To acknowledge one's own sexual being and to define the relationships that follow is a basic human right. How dare anyone intrude on a life choice that is not his to make for others? Whether the president's family knows gay couples who are monogamous and nice to their children has no more to do with the issue than the old argument of enlightened racists in the American South that there were many fine Negroes who were not at all uppity.
Uppity as in the case of gays who were not satisfied with Obama's prior endorsement of civil unions: "I had hesitated on gay marriages in part because I thought that civil unions would be sufficient." As in knowing your place and being content with the bone you are tossed rather than demanding the full meal you're entitled to.
There is enormous condescension in Obama's assertion that "I've always been adamant that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly and equally." He had not been adamant enough to push for an amendment to the Civil Rights Act to end discrimination based on sexual orientation. Nor did he issue an executive order banning government agencies from contracting with businesses guilty of such discrimination.
Surely one could not have always been in favor of fairness and equality and yet succumbed to pressure from those who claimed that allowing gays to marry was somehow ungodly. "I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people, the word "marriage' was something that invokes very powerful traditions and religious beliefs," Obama told us, as if sensitivity is admirable when the bigots hide behind cultural norms.