When a Nod’s Not Enough 

Now’s the time for Barack Obama to start delivering on his promise of change. But will your most important issues be among his top priorities? 

BY James Kirchick

January 05 2009 12:00 AM ET

Indeed, just because Obama talks a good game on gay rights doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll follow through, no matter how genuine his rhetoric may sound. He’s already given gays some reasons to worry, with two of his associations on the campaign trail raising red flags: Donnie McClurkin, the “ex-gay” gospel singer Obama asked to help him win the critically important, and socially conservative, black vote during the South Carolina Democratic primary; and James Meeks, an Illinois state senator and pastor whom Obama once called a spiritual adviser, who has been described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as one of the “10 leading black religious voices in the antigay movement.” In both instances, as in the aftermath of the Warren announcement, Obama reacted swiftly to assuage gay voters’ concerns, and his supporters maintain he doesn’t have an antigay bone in his body.

Ultimately, with two ongoing wars and a global financial crisis, Obama may not even play much of a role in moving gay rights forward, however good his intentions may be. Baldwin remains optimistic and plans to frame issues like domestic-partner benefits and employment nondiscrimination within broader concerns about the country’s economic strength. “Given the idea that the economy and jobs and competitiveness will be large issues at the forefront in our next session in Congress ... we’ll have consideration of domestic-partner legislation in that particular context,” she says.

In his second book, The Audacity of Hope, Obama reflects on his lack of support for gay marriage, writing, “In years hence I may be seen as someone who was on the wrong side of history.” Such a confession indicates an uncertainty and open-mindedness not seen in most politicians, who usually state their opinions with the assuredness that comes naturally to people who, by dint of a career in politics, never admit being wrong. Others may see this prognostic morality as cynical and cowardly: Obama is giving himself room to seem open-minded while still opposing, in pure policy terms, full equality for gays. What’s clear, however, is that Obama’s acknowledgment that he could be “wrong” about an issue so hotly contested as same-sex marriage indicates that he’s well aware of the way the culture is headed. As the most powerful man in the world, Obama has the opportunity to write history. The question now is how audacious it is to hope that he’ll be on the right side.

Tags: Politics

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