An edited version of this piece appeared in the May 16, 2013 edition of the SF Bay Times.
Last Thursday marked the one-year anniversary of a marriage equality milestone. On May 9, 2012, President Obama told the nation, “[W]hen I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed … same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet … are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, … it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”
President Obama’s statement of support for the freedom to marry, the first by a sitting U.S. president and the culmination of a years-long “evolution,” made history. Even more critically, it made a difference in shaping the conversation that is difficult to overstate.
In May, 2012, just six states and the District of Columbia had recognized marriage equality for same-sex couples. Just one day before the president’s pro-equality statement, in fact, after a bitter ballot initiative campaign and by an overwhelming margin of 61 to 39 percent, North Carolina voters had amended the state’s constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman, and to prohibit same-sex couples not only from marrying but from entering into any “legal domestic union,” including civil unions and domestic partnership.
Our opponents gloated. One more confirmation, they asserted, of their talking point that every time “the people” are allowed to vote on marriage equality, they reject it.
Then the president made his public statement of support for the right of same-sex couples to marry.