Senators to Obama: Time to Evolve

By admin

Originally published on Advocate.com June 23 2011 10:10 AM ET

Although White House press secretary Jay Carney said earlier this week that he does not anticipate any revelatory statement from President Barack Obama on his gay marriage position when he takes the stage at an LGBT fund-raiser in New York this evening, a group of Democratic senators is now urging the president to support marriage equality.

This week The Advocate reached out to U.S. senators who have previously stated their support for marriage equality and asked whether the president should now do the same. Not all responded, and some who did reiterated their own support for equal rights while sidestepping the question of whether President Obama should follow their lead.

But among the unequivocal statements in response were those from several original sponsors of pending LGBT equality legislation. Their bottom line, to borrow from a Twitter hashtag gaining momentum: Evolve already.

“President Obama has taken important steps to help the LGBT community, and I urge him to join me and millions of other Americans in supporting equal marriage rights for same-sex couples,” said Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, sponsor of the Student Non-Discrimination Act.

Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, lead sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, said, “I support marriage equality — this is an issue of fundamental fairness. I hope that President Obama will endorse that view and voice his support for equality for all.”

Franken and Merkley were joined in the sentiment by several colleagues, including independent senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who said he hoped his state’s own endorsement of marriage equality “will help shape the thinking of all our elected leaders, including the president;” Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, who said, “I hope the president and all Americans join in supporting marriage equality;” and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who noted “that support of the president would be very welcomed.”

Feinstein, lead sponsor of legislation to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act introduced in March, did not directly press the president on his stance, though she added, “I hope he endorses my bill to repeal DOMA.”

Last month, in an interview with The Advocate, New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand said the president can and should come out in support of marriage equality prior to the 2012 election — perhaps becoming the first current senator to publicly press the White House on its current stance, one that has been met with consternation and confusion by many LGBT Americans. (“It's embarrassing to watch almost all of the absurd rhetoric around this issue that's coming out of the White House,” activist David Mixner told the Associated Press Thursday.)

“There’s no reason why he can’t lean into marriage equality in a public speech or through some action he could do through the White House,” Gillibrand said in May. “I’d be thrilled if he decided to do that.”

Other pro–marriage equality senators declined to push Obama on the issue at present, some citing the president’s significant step earlier this year in deeming a section of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and unworthy of further defense in federal court challenges.

Said one representative in an email response: “We're confident the president will do the right thing, but don't want to make it harder for him to do so by coming out so pointedly.”

Richard Socarides, president of Equality Matters, said of the statements, “It’s significant that so many U.S. senators are willing to essentially call the president out on this — on his wanting to have it both ways. I’m not sure it will end his journey. But it can’t hurt.”SENATORS AL FRANKEN BERNIE SANDERS KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND JEFF MERKLEY (GETTY) ADVOCATE.COM Statements in full:

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.):
“Every
American deserves equal treatment under the law, and there’s no question
that same-sex couples deserve full marriage recognition. President
Obama has taken important steps to help the LGBT community, and I urge
him to join me and millions of other Americans in supporting equal
marriage rights for same-sex couples.”

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.):
“I
support marriage equality—this is an issue of fundamental fairness. I
hope that President Obama will endorse that view and voice his support
for equality for all.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.):
"This
isn't about politics or elections—it's an equal rights issue. I hope
the President and all Americans join in supporting marriage equality."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.):
“I
am proud that Vermont was a national leader in legalizing gay marriage.
I believe the example that Vermont set has helped change people’s
attitudes all across America. I also hope that it will help shape the
thinking of all our elected leaders, including the president.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif):
“I believe that support of the President would be very welcomed. I hope he endorses my bill to repeal DOMA.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.); statement issued from Deputy Chief of Staff Jennifer I. Hoelzer:
"The
Senator believes that no one has any business telling consenting adults
who they can and can’t marry as he has been saying publicly since
1996. Since then, he has been gratified to see politicians on both sides
of the aisle recognize that simple truth. It is Senator Wyden’s hope
that all of our political leaders will understand the limits of their
authority and carry out their obligation to extend equal protection and
the full faith and credit of the law to every American."

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.); from May 17 interview with The Advocate:
"[T]here’s
no reason why he can’t lean into marriage equality in a public speech
or through some action he could do through the White House. I’d be
thrilled if he decided to do that. He did take the step of not
[defending] DOMA through his Department of Justice, which is a fantastic
step because it was one that he was unwilling to do in “don’t ask,
don’t tell.” So it shows a shift in his willingness to use the power of
the White House—the power of the administration—to change public
perception and to change policy. So I think we could get a very strong public statement out of him."

The Advocate will add any additional statements from senators if and when they are released.