Editorial: Leading on gay marriage

  • Updated: May 12, 2012 - 5:22 PM

Obama's voice should be heard in Minnesota debate.

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President Barack Obama, right, and Vice President Joe Biden

Photo: Susan Walsh, Associated Press

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After years of consideration, President Obama has finally solidified his position on gay marriage. After years of not supporting same-sex matrimony, he said last week that he has "evolved'' and changed his view.

It's uncertain how this welcome decision will affect Obama's reelection bid in a nation that is nearly evenly split on the topic, but those who support gay marriage are rightly celebrating the news.

Obama's earlier take on marriage equity was similar to that of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., who died in 2002. Though he was a human-rights champion, Wellstone didn't endorse same-sex marriage. During Wellstone's time in the Senate, many Americans felt similarly -- they believed in fairness and equity but had trouble applying the word "marriage" to a gay relationship.

But times have changed. A Pew Research Center poll revealed that, like Obama, many Americans have evolved. An April 2012 survey found that 47 percent favor gay marriage, compared with 31 percent in 2004.

Critics have said the president took too long to voice his support, but it's never really too late to do the right thing.

Obama's support, though politically risky, is an important milestone in the fight for marriage equity. The president took a stand despite the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which denies federal recognition to gay marriages. He stood up on principle, even though 39 states limit marriage to a man and woman.

The day before Obama spoke out, North Carolina voters rejected gay marriage, joining every other state that has put the matter to a vote. The issue obviously demands leadership that can stand strong despite what's "popular.'' If a majority vote had prevailed in the past, America might still have slavery, women and children as property, legal school segregation, and voting laws excluding women and minorities.

In November, Minnesota will regrettably join the states that have put gay marriage up for a referendum. Though this state already has a DOMA law, voters will decide whether that last bastion of discriminatory rules should be enshrined in the state Constitution. We hope they vote no.

Now that Obama has announced his position, we hope he'll be a leader in ending discrimination against gays. Perhaps he can start by encouraging Minnesotans to defeat the same-sex marriage amendment when he campaigns here next month.

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