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Opinion: Obama, Marriage and Maryland

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Opinion: Obama, Marriage and Maryland

AP

President Barack Obama

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The battle over marriage in Maryland did not end when Gov. Martin O’Malley signed same-sex marriage into law earlier this year. Opponents of the law are organizing to gather the 55,736 signatures required to put the question to voters. Most observers expect the petition drive to succeed, which means that the future of same-sex marriage in Maryland will likely be decided on Election Day in November.

To date, 32 states have addressed by ballot the question of same-sex marriage. Thirty-two times voters have either opposed marriage equality or supported laws that define marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman.

In Maryland, recent polls show public opinion almost evenly divided over the issue, with supporters of same-sex marriage edging out detractors by a few percentage points.

In many states that have voted on the issue, African American voters were key opponents to same-sex marriage.

A Washington Post poll taken in January 2012 found that 53 percent of black Democrats in Maryland oppose same-sex marriage, 41 percent are in favor.

Last week President Barack Obama announced the latest in his evolution toward supporting marriage equality by declaring, “I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

Obama’s re-election campaign is unlikely to put much effort or resources into mobilizing voters in Maryland. It is a solidly blue state. Notwithstanding, it is very likely that African Americans will turn out in high numbers to vote for Obama.

If 53 percent of black Democrats continue to oppose same-sex marriage, the measure could be headed for trouble at the ballot box.

Regardless of his personal beliefs, Obama has made it clear that he supports states deciding the issue of same-sex marriage on their own. This gives his backers a lot of latitude to oppose marriage equality.

A vote for Obama may be a vote for many of his policies, but a vote for Obama need not necessarily be a vote for marriage equality.

It struck me as odd that the president, a former constitutional law professor, would make the case that equality and human rights are best left for the states to decide.

While many have heralded Obama’s newfound enlightenment as a giant leap forward, to me it appears to be a product of political calculations designed to stake out high moral ground and safe turf at the same time.

Longtime civil rights leader Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) is at odds with Obama’s point of view.

“I depart from the president on the state-by-state approach,” said Clyburn. “If you consider this to be a civil right, and I do, I don't think civil rights ought to be left up to a state-by-state approach.”

Clyburn’s words and those of other veteran civil rights leaders may be helpful toward easing opposition to gay marriage among African Americans in Maryland, but the president’s position provides voters an out. A cop out in my opinion.

I hope Marylanders uphold same-sex marriage. I had hoped that a president who campaigned on hope and change would stand for equal rights across America.


Chuck Thies is a political analyst and consultant.  His columns appear every Tuesday and Thursday on First Read DMV. He co-hosts "DC Politics" on WPFW, 89.3 FM. Since 1991, Chuck has lived in either D.C., Maryland or Virginia. Email your tips and complaints to chuckthies@gmail.com or tweet at @chuckthies.

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