May 9, 2012 was never going to be just another Wednesday. As the country reacted to Tuesday's passage of a constitutional amendment in North Carolina making same-sex marriages, civil unions, and domestic partnerships illegal in that state, President Obama harnessed his midday interview with ABC's Robin Roberts to turn the conversation on all 50 states, announcing officially and for the first time his support for gay marriage.
No previous date in American history has so succinctly offered a snapshot of the country's polarizing struggle with gay civil rights—on the one hand, North Carolina's vote by a 20-percent margin to outlaw same-sex marriage is disappointing if not surprising (it's the 31st state to do so); but on the other hand, a sitting President addressing his constituents in an election year with a message of LGBT equality creates an unprecedented opportunity for the issue to evolve.
Photo: Courtesy of ABC
Indeed, Obama has long described his personal feelings toward gay marriage as "evolving," a process that received a hefty nudge when Vice President Joe Biden declared his own support in a television interview on Sunday. And, indeed, Republican hopeful Mitt Romney was quick to re-assert Wednesday his sole belief in marriage between a man and a woman, although how vigorously he will push Obama on their differences in the lead-up to election night depends on how singularly gay marriage comes to define 2012.
Already this year has proven to be a watershed moment for same-sex couples, with Maryland and Washington State both signing gay marriage protections into law and a California judge ruling Proposition 8 unconstitutional. The ultimate fate of Prop 8 continues to unfold as the decision moves up the appeals court chain, only underscoring the diversity of ways in which this nation chooses to grapple with same-sex marriage. From the Supreme Court to the church aisle, one could say the entire landscape for American weddings has been uprooting of late as couples—gay and straight alike—redefine traditions (a shift toward unorthodox colorful wedding gowns among them) and widen the conversation about how two people choose to join their lives.
Wednesday's announcement from President Obama has no direct effect on policy or even on how many more states will mangle their constitutions to exclude gay residents. But if nothing else, Obama's affirmation of every person's right to love emboldens the growing number of voices now calling for change. "Regardless of how old you are, it's the first time you have ever seen a president of the United States look into a camera and say that a gay person should be treated equally under the law," Chad Griffin, the incoming president of the Human Rights Campaign, told The New York Times. "The message that that sends, to a young gay or transgender person struggling to come out, is life changing."
—Phillip B. Crook