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Hot Topic: President Obama Endorses Same Sex Marriage
Professor Carlos Ball from Rutgers School of Law-Newark calls the announcement a 'crucial moment' for the LGBT community
Rutgers Today: What is the significance of Obama becoming the first sitting president to come out in support of gay marriage?
Ball: This is a crucial moment in the history of the LGBT rights movement. In the past, whenever a President has supported a major civil rights initiative, Americans have ended up endorsing it. The fight for marriage equality has always been about fairness and equal treatment under the law. The fact that the President has now come out in favor of same-sex marriage has huge implications. For one thing, it will make it possible for future Democratic presidential candidates to endorse same-sex marriage without reservation. Someone had to go first, and it was Obama.
Rutgers Today: Why do you think Obama came out in favor of gay marriage now and what is the significance of this announcement coming on the heels of the vote in North Carolina to support a constitutional amendment that bans gay marriage?
Ball: I think the President is being true to his convictions. I take him at his word that his position on this issue has been "evolving." He is a man of honor and principle, and I think he could no longer stay silent on such an important civil rights issue. He did not have to do this, and it is not clear how it will all shake out politically, but I think he did it because he believed it was the right thing to do.
North Carolina now joins a majority of other states with a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages. It is another example of how divided we are as a country on this issue. Polls show that a growing majority of Americans support same-sex marriage. Surveys also show that the vast majority of Americans under the age 30 do not understand why we do not have same-sex marriage across the country. So this debate will continue for sure. But now we know where the President stands.
Rutgers Today: What political implications do you think this will have? Do you think it will win him votes, or hurt him on Election Day, especially in crucial swing states?
Ball: It may be that the President's decision will cost him more votes than it will gain him in swing states. But it is difficult to tell. If he was going to do this, it may have been politically smart to do it now, as opposed to closer to the election. While this is big news today, it may not be by November.
Rutgers Today: What difference does the president’s endorsement make for the LGBT community and for society in general and how does this change the debate?
Ball: When the LGBT rights movement started pushing for marriage equality about twenty years ago, few people (myself included) thought that we would see same-sex marriage in our lifetimes. For the President of the United States to come out in favor of same-sex marriage further legitimizes the claims to equal treatment under the law that serves as the cornerstone of the struggle for gay marriage. The fact that the President has now publicly recognized that LGBT individuals cannot be full citizens in our democracy without sharing equally in the right to marry will undoubtedly help persuade many that marriage discrimination must end.
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