In an emotional statement from the Rose Garden, President Obama Friday said the 5-4 Supreme Court decision ratifying gay marriage was borne of the principles undergirding the founding of our country.
Our nation was founded on a bedrock principle that we are all created equal. The project of each generation is to bridge the meaning of those founding words with the realities of changing times — a never-ending quest to ensure those words ring true for every single American . . . today we can say — in no uncertain terms — that we’ve made our union a little more perfect.
Such ringing language comes from a president who until just a few years ago himself supposedly opposed gay marriage, though everyone knew that was just to get elected president.
Perhaps somewhat defensively, Obama recited a list of his actions on gay rights, including refusing to defend the “discriminatory” Defense of Marriage Act and ending “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, which were policies of Bill Clinton.
“I know change for many of our LGBT brothers and sisters must have seemed so slow for so long,” he said, not acknowledging his own slowness to publicly endorse gay marriage. “But compared to so many other issues, America’s shift has been so quick.”
Progress on this journey often comes in small increments. Sometimes two steps forward, one step back, propelled by the persistent effort of dedicated citizens. And then sometimes there are days like this, when that slow, steady effort is rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt.
Obama acknowledged that some may oppose gay marriage based on “sincere” beliefs, and that those who held them were “Americans of goodwill.” But that seems hardly consistent with his casting of the issue as a moral and Constitutional imperative. What’s more, he called on advocates to “reach back” and help them change their minds:
I know that Americans of goodwill continue to hold a wide range of views on this issue. Opposition in some cases has been based on sincere and deeply held beliefs. All of us who welcome today’s news should be mindful of that fact; recognize different viewpoints; revere our deep commitment to religious freedom.
But today should also give us hope that on the many issues with which we grapple, often painfully, real change is possible. Shifts in hearts and minds is possible. And those who have come so far on their journey to equality have a responsibility to reach back and help others join them. Because for all our differences, we are one people, stronger together than we could ever be alone. That’s always been our story.
Unity then, is a good, as long as everyone is united behind the president’s position.
Obama invoked Robert Kennedy as well, bringing the liberal spirit of the 1960s into the modern Rose Garden with him:
Folks who were willing to endure bullying and taunts, and stayed strong, and came to believe in themselves and who they were, and slowly made an entire country realize that love is love.
What an extraordinary achievement. What a vindication of the belief that ordinary people can do extraordinary things. What a reminder of what Bobby Kennedy once said about how small actions can be like pebbles being thrown into a still lake, and ripples of hope cascade outwards and change the world.
America today jettisoned millennia of thinking about what marriage is. Perhaps the leader of this nation should be a little less certain that he knows better than all who came before him. And a little less certain he knows better than the Bible. Neither he nor anyone else understands the consequences of such dramatic change, which Obama himself said, struck like a “thunderbolt.”
This Supreme Court decision will cause wrenching divisions related to individual and religious freedoms. The president of all of us today should be a little less of an advocate and a little more of a healer, and a leader.