Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa speaks to community supporters of gay rights… (Michael Nelson / EPA )
To the evident discomfort of the White House and President Obama's reelection campaign, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has called for the Democratic Party's 2012 platform to include an endorsement of same-sex marriage. Instead of resenting — or fearing — the mayor's proposal, Obama should embrace it and end once and for all the exasperating "evolution" of his views on the subject.
In an interview with Politico, the mayor, who will serve as chairman of the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C., said: "I believe in family values, and I believe that we all ought to be able to have a family and marry if you want to. I don't think the government should be in that business of denying people the fundamental right to marry." The music, if not the exact words, recalled comments by Obama. For example, at a White House meeting last year, he saluted "folks who are standing up against discrimination and for the rights of parents and children and partners and students." Someone in the audience shouted: "And spouses!" And the president chimed in: "And spouses."
Obama has been stalwart in supporting gay rights. He pressed Congress successfully to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy preventing gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. His Justice Department has refused to defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman and allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. The Obama State Department now provides spousal benefits to same-sex partners of Foreign Service employees. And Obama opposed California's Proposition 8, calling it "divisive and mean-spirited."
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS: Presidential Election 2012
And yet the president still has not endorsed the concept of gay marriage. True, he has said recently that his views are evolving, a Darwinian turn of phrase that seems to hold out the hope of some future mutation in his position. To change the metaphor, Obama has been engaged in a sort of political strip tease on marriage equality.
The explanation is obvious: Obama and his advisors don't want to alienate more socially conservative voters. Asked about Villaraigosa's proposed gay-marriage plank, Obama's campaign manager was content to observe that any such provision would go through the routine platform drafting process. Of course it would, but that doesn't mean the president can't express an — inevitably influential — opinion about the idea.
Long before the convention platform committee convenes, Obama should end his dithering and endorse the position that many voters already ascribe to him anyway. Evolution should give way to resolution.