Obama and Amendment One

Having just sunnily predicted the demise of officially sanctioned discrimination against LGBT folk, I feel obligated to report that one near-term test of sentiment could not only turn out badly, but has already caused Barack Obama to continue his dance on marriage equality, on which he has described his views as “evolving.”

I’m speaking of the vote in North Carolina two weeks from today on Amendment One, a constitutional amendment that would not only ban same-sex marriage but civil unions as well, along with any other explicit protections for people in same-sex relationships. It’s a ballot initiative that would have made the late Sen. Jesse Helms very proud.

As you probably know, North Carolina was narrowly won by Obama in 2008, and a win here this year would go a very long way towards ensuring (or at least reflecting) his re-election. That makes Amendment One a dicey proposition for Obama. So it wasn’t shocking that in an appearance in Chapel Hill today, the president did not mention Amendment One (he gave a sharply-worded speech on the student loan interest rate extension on which he is struggling with congressional Republicans, a natural topic given the campus audience).

Still, as Amy Gardner reported at WaPo today, a campus audience would have also been an appropriate venue to talk about Amendment One:

“The ‘evolving’ position does frustrate people, especially young people, because it’s such a no-brainer to us,” said Jeff DeLuca, 21, a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill and another organizer against Amendment One. “When it’s all said and done, young people are going to vote this down 70-30. There is just a very strong generation gap.”

More to the point, Amendment One opponents point to a new PPP survey showing that support for the initiative drops significantly once voters understand it’s not a simple “gay marriage ban,” but arguably the most sweeping prohibition on support for same-sex relationships in the country. What better way to educate the public on the actual language of the ballot measure than via the bully pulpit of the presidency?

To be clear, Obama has officially stated his opposition to Amendment One, and for all I know opponents of the measure may have told the White House that talking about it today might be counter-productive. But if it passes narrowly, the speech might be viewed in retrospect as what one UNC told Gardner was “a lost opportunity.”

Obama’s dance on same-sex marriage, BTW, will face a more direct challenge later this year, thanks to the burgeoning movement to place an endorsement of marriage equality in the 2012 Democratic Platform. Having been involved a bit in the platform process in the recent past, I can assure you that nothing in that document appears that is not drafted and endorsed by the nominee’s staff. But if it is silent on the subject, it will definitely be noticed and criticized, at the precise time that the Obama campaign is trying to rev up the party base into a stretch-drive frenzy. So the debate will go on inside and beyond the White House.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.