On Gay Rights, Obama Lets Surrogates Take the Lead
President Obama has long relied on his oratorical gifts to ease him through tricky political situations. But on the emotionally charged issue of gay rights, Mr. Obama has been content recently to let his lieutenants do the talking. And they have said some striking things.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told an audience of diplomats in Geneva this month that “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.” In an interview in November, Shaun Donovan, the secretary of housing and urban development, said that he was proud to support the right of same-sex couples to marry.
The president enthusiastically endorsed Mrs. Clinton’s message, issuing a presidential memorandum directing all federal agencies to promote gay rights overseas. And while he said nothing publicly about Mr. Donovan’s declaration — which went further than Mr. Obama’s own position on the issue — a senior administration official said that Mr. Donovan enjoyed “the trust and respect of the president.”
Mr. Obama’s strategy, administration officials and gay rights advocates said, reflects two conflicting forces. He recognizes that support for gay rights and same-sex marriage is growing, particularly among young voters.
But he is reluctant in an election year to be drawn into a culture-war issue — one that reliably helps Republicans turn out evangelical voters in their favor and also strikes a particular nerve with religious black voters, a bedrock Obama constituency in battleground states like North Carolina and Florida.
There is little indication that Mr. Obama plans to endorse same-sex marriage before the presidential election in November, despite recent statements that tiptoe right up to that position. Speaking to a gay rights group in October, he said, “Every single American — gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, transgender — every single American deserves to be treated equally before the law.”
But in the absence of that symbolic step, the White House wants gay people to know that it stands with them. It is publicizing initiatives like the State Department’s campaign against persecution overseas and a government conference on the problems faced by older gay people.