Op-ed: Exploring the Uncomfortable Difference Between Cuomo and Obama
BY Michelangelo Signorile
August 08 2011 3:00 AM ET
What is particularly glaring about President Obama invoking states’ rights is that, as a constitutional attorney and the product of an interracial marriage, he certainly knows it is a flawed and offensive argument, particularly with regard to civil rights. He’s also being enormously hypocritical. While pushing his crowning civil rights achievement thus far, health care for all Americans, the president argued the complete antithesis of states’ rights. Tea Party activists and Republican candidates, including Mitt Romney, who signed a similar health care law in Massachusetts with a mandate that all residents buy health insurance (which keeps the price affordable) or face penalties, claim that the federal government should not be placing a mandate on the states.
States, they say, should decide on their own if they want to take that approach. It’s a callous argument, particularly coming from Romney, who says he’s proud of the law the he passed in Massachusetts but basically believes that if Mississippi isn’t lucky enough to have a governor and legislators who see the wisdom of a such a plan, then that’s too bad for many of the people of Mississippi. No health care.
President Obama’s health care reform law, on the other hand, doesn’t allow states to opt out of the law or the mandate unless they replace it with something that will afford universal coverage. He sees health care as a right of every American and one that is a federal issue, not just a state issue, even though individual states will regulate health care differently, up to a point, just like marriage.
Yet Obama claims to see marriage the way Romney views health care: If the gay and lesbian people of New York are lucky enough to have a governor and legislators who will extend to them their right to marry, good for them. (The president actually called the New York law a “good thing” in the context of making the states’ rights argument during a White House press conference a few days after the law passed.) And if the gay and lesbian people of Nebraska are not lucky enough to have enlightened political leaders, too bad. No equal rights.
It’s hard to believe the president truly thinks that way. We know, in fact, from a questionnaire he filled out in 1996 — in which he claimed, as a state legislative candidate, that he supported marriage equality — that he doesn’t appear to see it that way at all. The White House has gone into contortions trying to explain the questionnaire since it surfaced in 2008 and still hasn’t come up with a straight answer, dismissing most questions by reporters and claiming the president supports only civil unions, not marriage. White House advisers continue to fall back on the states’ rights argument, something Obama and Hillary Clinton both made during the primaries, and on which most LGBT activists were willing to give them a pass at the time.