Yesterday I spent a lot of time reading about Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico and the current presidential nominee for the Libertarian Party. Most of the information I could find was vague, talking a lot about “the message” and aligning him with Ron Paul. The few times he has been asked directly about what “the message” actually is, he has touted the old Libertarian mantra that he is “socially liberal and fiscally conservative.” But I have to say that I was compelled inspite of myself by his assertion to “keep the government out of the bedroom.” I want to vote for a candidate who isn’t afraid to stand up for marriage equality.
But then, of course, Obama came out with it: “So I decided it is time to affirm my personal belief that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.”
On Gawker, John Cook has called Barack Obama’s personal affirmation a “half-assed, cowardly cop-out” and he is not alone in his feelings. Many people are feeling dissatisfied that Obama has only come forward with a statement about his personal beliefs that everyone who supports him already assumed he held. It is abhorrent for some that the President has stated that the issue still lies at the state level. Cook wrote, “Before Roe v. Wade, abortion was a state-by-state issue, too. So was slavery. There are 44 states in which gay men and women are currently barred from marrying one another.” And that is not okay by him.
But my question is, should we be so disappointed that the President appears to be moving us in the right direction? I am no political scientist, but abortion was legalized and slavery was outlawed. Do we really expect at this point that getting the government to recognize civil rights should be immediate? It may not be rational and it may not be just, but it takes time. Society changes slowly.
(Disclaimer: The following is not a nonsequitor. I promise.)
Buffalo Bill was a great cowboy, hunter, showman and businessman. He brought American values in the form of Frontier myth all over the world. He got his storied start in part because of the death of his father when he was a young boy and he made the decision to “jump off” in search of adventure, but also in an effort to support his mother and siblings. His father, Isaac Cody, died from an infection that affected him as a result of injuries he suffered at the hands of pro-slavery men in the 1850s in Kansas.
If you are an enthusiast of Bill Cody, you might already know that his father was attacked after he was urged to speak in front of a growing crowd at a trading post about whether or not he thought Kansas should become a slavery state. You might also know that Isaac Cody affirmed his personal belief that Kansas should, indeed, NOT become a slavery state. In that moment, one of the many pro-slavery men in the crowd jumped up and stabbed him. And so it has been told that Isaac Cody was attacked when he gave an antislavery speech.
Here’s what often gets left out of that story. Isaac did not claim to be against slavery as an institution. In fact, he justified his antislavery position by asserting that Kansas should not allow any black people to live within the borders, slave or not.
What I cannot claim to know is what Isaac Cody actually believed. From today’s vantage point, he might as well have been a white-supremesist. But if we were to suppose that he actually did not agree with the institution of slavery, then we might also be able to suppose that he was doing his best to be honest while not getting stabbed. Of course, that didn’t work out so well. Maybe he was trying to take a half-step forward.
Now, excluding all black people from a state does not seem exactly progressive. And in that light, it seems like Isaac Cody was just trying to protect himself despite the injustice of slavery.
Is that what Obama is doing? You could say he was selfishly trying to recapture the youth vote that fueled his campaign four years ago by stating his personal beliefs all the while preserving his current campaign by refraining from rolling out actual policy. Just another policitican.
But popular opinion dictates more than political office, it also makes up the foundation of social mores. In an effort to get reelected and appeal to a wide swath of voters, Obama might also be promoting the gradual, but lasting acceptance of marriage equality in this country.
I work in an elementary school where teachers spend their days promoting good behavior and high expectations through concrete modeling. First the teacher shows the students how to safely walk from the rug to the line, then one student shows the class, then everyone practices the behavior together. Obama was saying his opinion on gay marriage was “evolving” over the last two years, which let him bide his time. But yesterday, he walked through the steps he hopes Americans will take toward accepting and recognizing the importance of marriage equality. At first, civil unions seemed like enough, but then he started talking to his friends and his family. Then, he started to think about the people he works with and the men and women serving in the military. Then, he thought about his children and the world he wants them to grow up in. Until he finally arrived at the firm belief that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.
It’s a far cry from enacting law, but as the leader of our society, he has set a damn good example of how a human being should come around to an idea they’ve previously been ambivalent about, but that they’re beginning to realize makes a lot of sense.