Governor Mike Huckabee felt compelled to shoot his mouth off on Twitter this week.
The response was swift and unvarnished from @justincoit:
If the number of retweets (people who re-sent the message to their own followers) is any indicator, Justin succinctly spoke for many. It was one of the most retweeted messages of the day. A similar response to Donald Trump's declaration got me thinking about the increasing passion felt on this issue and where the evolving messaging is going.
I, myself, was more inclined to rub the Governor's nose in the fact that he will never be more than an also ran in the race for the Presidency that he so craves. He failed in 2008 and I have full confidence he will fail in 2012.
Note the #NOH8 hashtag. Gay rights activist have moved pretty effectively toward branding homophobia as equal to hate. In part, Adam Bouska has created a nifty catchphrase, enticing visuals and roped some pretty big names into his campaign.
Envisioned originally to fight Proposition 8, NOH8 has expanded to serve as short hand for opposing LGBT discrimination and endorsing marriage equality. And the overall branding of LGBT discrimination as hateful has been pretty darn effective speaking purely from a PR/change-the-tone-of-the-conversation view.
In part because it rings so true. The things our opponent say are pretty darn hateful as this marriage equality opponent said in the course of State hearings in New Hampshire:
"We're talking about taking the penis of one man and putting it in the rectum of another man and wriggling it around in excrement. " Rep. Elliott said.
If winning messaging is homophobia=hatred and discrimination=homophobia, what to do when our opponents sound the same as our allies? Compare these statements:
Marriage = one man + one woman
"I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman."
The second quote is from Barack Obama at the Saddleback Church, August 17, 2008.
What to do about the President? If we feel free to so aggressively challenge Governor Huckabee and Donald Trump, what does it say about us if we excuse Barack Obama for holding essentially the same view?
My friend David Badash who runs the New Civil Rights Movement blog recently asked his readers: "Do you consider someone who does not support marriage equality, or "gay marriage," to be anti-gay?"
I know, internet polls, preaching to the choir all that. This isn't about empirical data so much as a comment on swiftly changing moods. Aggressively re-framing the debate that anti-marriage = anti-gay frames the argument into a simple binary choice.
Perhaps it's a outgrowth of Prop 8 tearing the marriage right out from our hands that has many in the LGBT community feeling a little more confrontational. Maybe the perspective has transitioned from "May we please?" to "Well, why the Hell not?" If this is becoming an ingrained attitude, what do we do about the President?
The right has never laid down arms in the culture war. And the gay community is increasingly ready to take the fight directly to them aggressively. Courage Campaign as taken to stalking them right back, as mercilessly as they've stalked the gays over the years. The picture above is one of the iconic achievements of this strategy. They have effectively shone a light on the depths of hatred that fuel groups like Family Research Council, American Family Association and NOM.
The aggressive pursuit for equality has also centered on Chick-Fil-A corporation, with Equality Matters reporting that corporation's anti-marriage equality activities have made them targets for several viral videos and movements to oust their outlets from college campus food courts nationwide.
But the White House is still waffling around in the middle, searching for the triangulated sweet spot between full equality and bigotry. In a one-two punch, too closely timed to be coincidental, Biden called marriage equality "inevitable" and Obama's talked about "evolving."
If Biden and Obama's statements were intended as trial balloons, it's possible, perhaps likely, the intended focus group was not in fact the gay community, but rather the far right. Was a test to see how loud the right would squawk if they felt they were losing ground in the White House?
Within the gay community, these statements seem to have stirred the pot more than tamp down the tension. Human Rights Campaign, of all LGBT organizations long the most deferential to the White House kicked off a campaign to lobby Obama to endorse marriage equality (again).
These declarations may also have spurred Chris Johnson at the Washington Blade. He's pressed Robert Gibbs to clarify how Obama has evolved from supporting marriage equality in 1996 to opposing it now.
The first time he tried to cut the presser short. The initial exchange was rather embarrassing. Johnson presses him to answer the 1996 question, but Gibbs won't.
Blade: But do you dispute the accuracy of this questionnaire response?
Gibbs: Again, I’m happy to send you the several thousand clips of which went around during the course of 2008 on a whole host of those issues.
I'm confused. Those clips aren't going to verify or dispute the authenticity of the questionnaire? Johnson circled back within the week, again asking if there was a "political motivation" for changing his position. Gates still hasn't answered the question. Johnson observed days later:
Gibbs didn't call on me today. Hmm...
Similar standstills have occurred when people have tried to press the administration to opine on the Constitutionality of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and Defense of Marriage Act. Though the admin was not shy about declaring Arizona's immigration law unconstitutional, they claim it would be out of their purvey to do the same on DADT and DOMA. Chris Geidner summed up the simplicity of the DOMA Constitutionality issue with a three word challenge in the Huffington Post: Answer the Question. (The administration never did.)
They can try, but they can't duck these questions forever.
Obama sent a message on leadership to our Arab allies. From today's New York Times:
“...if you are governing these countries, you’ve got to get out ahead of change. You can’t be behind the curve.”Well said, sir. I agree.
Change is coming here too, as well as abroad, and fast.
There's an axiom, "Lead, follow or get out of the way." Unfortunately for Obama, as one of the most influential leaders in the country, the last option really isn't available to him when the fight gets heated.
And his current opposition to marriage is standing firmly in the way.
Because rather than making it better, Obama has helped to add to the public's confusion on this issue. Continuing on at the Saddleback Church he also said:
"Now, for me as a Christian — for me — for me as a Christian, it is also a sacred union. God’s in the mix."
Of course, this is what National Organization for Marriage, the Mormon Church and the Catholic Church are all saying, the State has to respect that "God's in the mix." But this isn't a Church issue. No Church is being asked to perform any rituals that violate their tenets, any more than the Civil Rights Act compelled Catholic Churches to marry Jews.
Carly Fiorina, playing to an electorate rather evenly divided on the issue, mitigated her opposition to marriage equality by using Obama for political cover saying:
"And actually, the position I’ve consistently espoused is consistent with that of our President."
I frankly don't envy the White House as they head into election 2012. I know they don't want to present a marriage equality candidate to ask for the Electoral Votes of North Carolina, Florida, Ohio and Indiana. I don't think anyone can reasonably say that the right wouldn't relish making him a punching bag on that issue.
But, if Barack Obama is re-elected in 2012, he will be President until January 2016. It would behoove his team to give some thought to the reality that the battle for not only marriage equality, but affirmation of LGBT Americans full equality under the law in all walks is very, very likely to come to a heated head under his Presidency. Standing silently on the sidelines or triangulating for his full tenure seems an unworkable strategy. It's an unpleasant reality, but sometimes in life, you really do have to choose a side. The aggressive pursuit of equality is not likely to inconvenience only some players, while giving others a pass.
Increasingly it may be as hard for the White House to duck the left as it would be to duck the right. These are not merely "issues" to many folks, but firmly held beliefs, and the pursuit of tangible benefits. Some feel their lives are being toyed with because it's politically expedient. Many have already experienced a lifetime of political expediency.
We all know the GOP is good at getting what they want by setting up stark binary choices: "Do you want the warrantless wiretapping, or do you want the terrorists to get you?"
Many gay rights activist have set up their own binary choice framing. They're asking America, "Who do you stand with? Do you stand with hate and discrimination? Or do you stand with us?"
What to do about those who won't answer the question?
Update: This just in. From marriage equality repeal hearing in New Hamphsire Jeremy Hooper reports:
CPR Action would be, Cornerstone-Action, the conservative group angling to repeal NH's marriage equality. Kevin Smith was testifying in support of repealing gay people's right to marry.
Of course, he's lying. But the fact that Obama did not actively engage in stopping the repeal of gay marriage in California and Maine rather muddles this issue to the casual observer. Obama, if pressed might say he's against repealing marriage equality in New Hampshire. But he has not, to my knowledge weighed in publicly on the issue. So Kevin Smith can represent Obama's position as he sees fit. Smith is picking the "I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman," part of Obama's messaging to support his goal. Perhaps the White House will clarify?