In the aftermath of North Carolina’s May 2012 vote for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, President Obama announced: “I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”As the November election nears, the motives behind Obama’s announcement are unclear. Was he trying to reignite his iconic 2008 “Change We Can Believe In” campaign? Was it a selfless move? Or was there an ulterior motive?
Although Obama’s statement was met by mixed public opinion, many on the left praised his announcement as an altruistic, apolitical act. A closer look at Obama’s statement, however, reveals a social and economic agenda behind his endorsement. Since President Obama’s historic 2008 victory, much of the liberal enthusiasm for him has dissipated. Many factions of the American left, including the LGBTQ community, have become disillusioned by Obama’s moderate stances and perceived nonchalance on gay and lesbian issues.
While most of this community is likely to vote for Obama in November, prominent gays and lesbians had with- held their substantial financial resources for much of the election cycle. According to many political strategists, Obama strategically announced his support for same-sex marriage to woo back gay donors. Indeed, according to a CNN report, about one in every sixteen of Obama’s biggest donors is openly gay; the Washington Post goes even further and estimates one in six is gay. (Campaign contributors are not required to indicate their sexual orientation.)
Between January and March 2012, LGBTQ donors raised roughly $8 million for the President. But “in the three days after Mr. Obama announced his shift in thinking, the campaign raised almost $9 million in donations,” said PBS News Hour correspondent Spencer Michels.“In recent years, gay people have dedicated more time and money towards politics,” said Dr. M. V. Lee Badgett, the research director of the Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at UCLA Law School.
In addition to the LGBTQ community, Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage may have an ancillary impact on both young and Jewish voters. In 2008, college students campaigned for Obama in a variety of ways, from holding voter registration drives to attending political rallies. Many believe the President’s announcement will once again inspire these students — particularly LGBTQ students — to campaign and vote. “In general, the younger generation is more tolerant and accepting of same-sex unions than older generations,” Badgett said.
Yale University LGBTQ Co-Op coordinator Hilary O’Connell said that the organization is not officially involved in any campaigning as Yale undergraduate regulations prohibit organizations from using Yale money to promote particular candidates. Yet, she is “certain that many individuals [in Yale’s LGBTQ community] on campus are involved in other efforts to promote Obama, and some may have even worked on his campaign over the summer.”
The President may also attract Jewish voters through his gay marriage endorsement. America’s Jewish population is historically liberal-minded and particularly supportive of other minority groups. As such, experts believe they will find President Obama’s message a welcome one. In a recent article, Ron Kampeas of the Global News Service of the Jewish People wrote, “Polls have found that upwards of three-quarters of American Jews support same-sex marriage.” The same article reported that Obama’s gay marriage endorsement was praised by some of the country’s most influential Jewish groups.
But for all the support the President’s announcement may have among gay, young and Jewish voters, one major drawback is the potential alienation of devout African American Christians. The NAACP recently backed Obama’s position and polls have shown that support for same-sex marriage in the black community has risen substantially since the President’s endorsement. But American blacks — like any other subset of voters — certainly do not vote as a group. Indeed, the Obama campaign remains concerned about the impact his announcement could have on a number of crucial constituencies — chief among them religious African Americans in states such as Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina.
In retrospect, it seems likely that the President’s statement in support of gay marriage was motivated at least in part by a desire to gain both financial and electoral support. But considering sharply divided public opinion on the issue, this strategy is a risky one. In just a few days, we will see whether ultimately, whether it proves successful.
Derek Soled is a freshman in Branford College