Obama Finds Middle Way on Gay Vows
This president of the United States is a man from many worlds. Barack Obama has long cast himself as a transcender of tribes. “Born and raised between opposing dogmas, between cultures, between voices,” as the novelist Zadie Smith has written, he seems to take pride in acknowledging the truth in multiple ways of seeing.
And so he pursues the liberal goal of widening health care access, but relies on private insurers and frames it as a question of budgets more than justice. He sustains and intensifies George W. Bush’s “war on terror,” while at the same time refusing to call it a war on terror and speaking more gingerly about America’s role in the world.
It was this president who this month endorsed same-sex marriage. Once again, he appeared to seek to bridge two streams of thought: embracing a liberal priority in a notably conservative way.
Speaking after his vice president and two cabinet secretaries had preceded him, Mr. Obama declared, “For me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”
You don’t need to be a licensed grammarian to count the qualifications in that sentence: “for me,” “personally,” “for me” (again), “affirm” (a kind of going-along rather than declaring), “I think.” Qualifying words account for fully one-third of a sentence that was nonetheless deemed historic.
What Mr. Obama apparently sought in that single sentence — to lend support to the cause, without letting anyone believe he was calling for a legally binding right — held true throughout the televised interview.
He spoke in an essentially personal capacity; he declined to endorse same-sex marriage as a constitutional right that transcends state law; and, in cases like this at least, he seemed to conceive of rights as something that majorities confer on minorities when they please.