Obama’s Opposition to Marriage Amendment isn’t “News”

by Paul Hogarth on July 2, 2008

The SF Chronicle announced “breaking news” on their website yesterday (and front-page headline today) that Barack Obama is against Proposition 8 – California’s right-wing constitutional amendment to repeal marriage equality. Too bad the “breaking” news was a letter that Obama sent to the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club several days earlier, and was publicly read at their Pride Breakfast on Sunday. But regardless of how you define news as “breaking,” Obama has been on record opposing Prop 8 for the past six weeks – as he issued a formal statement on the day of the California Supreme Court’s decision. The Chronicle yesterday referred to Obama’s May 15th statement as “carefully nuanced” – even though his position was quite explicit, and he even used some of the same language. Obama has always opposed Prop 8, and his pledge to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act gives LGBT couples very strong reason to campaign for him in the fall.

It’s amusing for the Chronicle to treat a letter read to a crowded room of activists two days earlier in downtown San Francisco as “breaking” news. Spain won the Euro Cup on June 29th – the same day that Obama’s letter was read. Would SFGate.com announce Spain’s victory two days after the fact on their front page and call it “Chronicle Breaking News”? Readers would naturally find that strange, so how is this example any different?

Obama’s position against California’s anti-gay marriage initiative – a welcome addition as activists mobilize to defeat it – isn’t “breaking news.” In fact, it’s not even news.

Six weeks ago, when the state Supreme Court issued its powerful decision on marriage equality, Barack Obama – like most politicians – issued a statement. While the statement included some wishy-washy language that Obama “respects” the court decision, supports civil unions and that states should make “their own decisions,” he also formally came out against California’s Proposition 8.

“On the issue of constitutional amendments,” said the May 15th statement, “Senator Obama has been on record for some time: He opposes all divisive and discriminatory constitutional amendments, state or federal. That includes the proposed amendments in California and Florida.” (my emphasis)

Now compare it with Obama’s letter from three days ago: “As the Democratic nominee for President, I am proud to support the LGBT community in an effort to set our nation on a course that recognizes LGBT Americans with full equality under the law … And that is why I oppose the divisive and discriminatory efforts to amend the California Constitution, and similar efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution or those of other states.” (my emphasis)

Far from accusations by the right wing that Obama has “flip-flopped” on the issue (which the Chronicle dutifully quoted without criticisms), Obama opposed efforts to change California’s Constitution six weeks ago – and he opposes the amendment now. But somehow, the Chronicle dismissed what the Obama campaign released on May 15th as a “carefully nuanced statement.”

Granted, Obama’s letter on June 29th was more forceful – and it also cited his support for axing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and repealing the Defense of Marriage Act. The latter is extremely important, because California same-sex couples still don’t have all the benefits of marriage until the federal government treats them equally. But even that isn’t news: Obama supported repealing both laws back during the primaries, which made his platform more gay-friendly than Hillary Clinton.

On May 15th, Obama’s position was that marriage should be left to the states – but that he opposed any and all state constitutional amendments. So his allegedly “nuanced” position was that marriage could be legislated as being between a man and a woman – just as long as you didn’t enshrine hate within the constitution. Obama didn’t change that position with his letter – he just re-iterated his opposition to California’s Proposition 8, in case you didn’t hear it the first time.

After having carefully read (and re-read) Obama’s letter to the Alice B Toklas Club, the only “news” I can see is that he publicly acknowledged the same-sex couples who got married since the Supreme Court decision. “I want to congratulate all of you who have shown your love for each other by getting married these last few weeks,” he wrote. “I look forward to working with you in the coming months and years, and I wish you all continued success.” That may be news – but the media completely missed the boat on why.

In All the President’s Men, which details how Washington Post reporters helped bring down Richard Nixon with Watergate, the paper’s editor dismisses a salesman trying to sell him a feature for a weather report for people who were too drunk the day before, with the line: “Send it out to the San Francisco Chronicle – they need it.” Apparently, the Chronicle still hasn’t learned in the past 35 years that yesterday’s news is not “breaking news.”

But it wasn’t just the Chronicle that got this story wrong — even liberal blogs treated the Alice B Toklas letter as a break from Obama’s prior position. But Barack Obama has opposed changing the California Constitution to discriminate against same-sex couples for quite a long time – which gives the LGBT community more reason to enthusiastically support his candidacy.

EDITOR’S NOTE: In his spare time and outside of regular work hours, Paul Hogarth volunteered on Obama’s field operation in San Francisco. He also ran to be an Obama delegate to the Democratic National Convention.

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