Why Obama Still Says No to Gay Marriage

Earl Ofari Hutchinson | 6/30/2011, 3:51 p.m.

SYNOPSIS: Obama has been the best friend that gays have ever had in the White House, but his position on gay marriage is still evolving.

President Obama thundered to the throngs at the recent LGBT Leadership Council fundraising bash in New York. "I believe that gay couples deserve the same legal rights as every couple in the country," he said. This was not hyperbole that he had to shout to one of the country's most prominent, and influential gay rights groups to get gay activists off his back about his opposition to gay marriage.

Despite the withering heat he has taken for that opposition, Obama has been the best friend that gays have ever had in the White House.

He backed gay rights in speeches and legislation more than a dozen times as an Illinois state legislator and U.S. Senator. The record number of gay appointments, and the speed with which he's made them, were just the extension of his personal and political conviction that discrimination against gays is every bit the civil rights issue that discrimination against women and minorities is. He issued executive orders mandating that hospitals treat gay and lesbian couples the same as heterosexual ones, and at the same time expanded rights for gay couples who work in the federal government. He vigorously opposed Proposition 8, the California initiative that would have effectively banned gay marriage. He reversed his position on the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and calls it abhorrent.

But he won't take the final step and flatly say 'I support gay marriage and will back every effort in every state to pass a gay marriage law'. This refusal mystifies, rankles and angers gay rights organizations and is the single biggest stumbling block to them giving Obama their full-throated, all-out backing.

Obama may in time back gay marriage -- he's said his position is "evolving" -- but it's not going to happen just yet.

This would require Obama to reverse not his political thinking, but his fundamental and personal beliefs. He made that perfectly clear in a blog talk last October when he flatly said he wouldn't sign on to same sex marriage because of his "understandings" of what traditional marriage should be. That's the decades old unambiguous and universally consecrated notion that marriage is and should only be between a man and a woman. It's not just an antiquated, bigoted, and rapidly discredited understanding that Obama refers to, and that he's still stuck on.

Obama is no different than many other fiercely liberal, tolerant and broad-minded African-American when it comes to diversity issues. But he, like many others, still can draw the line on gay marriage and that's fueled by deeply ingrained notions of family, church, and community, and the need to defend the terribly frayed and fragmented black family structure. This mix of fear, belief, and traditional family protectionism has long been a staple among many blacks and virtually every time the issue of legalizing gay marriage has been put to the ballot, or initiative, or a legal challenge, or just simply the topic of public debate, there has been no shortage of black ministers and public figures willing to rush to the defense of traditional marriage.