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Gay Marriage and Presidential Politics on Course for a Head-on Collision

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(Danville, California)

The gay marriage debate has been the big white elephant in the past two presidential elections. Yes, it was there taking up a lot of space in the living room, but everyone pretty much pretended to look the other way.

Did the issue have an impact? Perhaps. In 2004, several states passed Constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage on the same day they voted for President. This helped George W. Bush, who opposed gay marriage. John Kerry did, too, but favored the alternative of “civil unions.” Kerry’s problem was that his home state of Massachusetts was allowing gay marriage, leading to some confusion about his stance. Ultimately, the issue made some voters uncomfortable, but did not decide the election.

In 2008, the nominees opposed gay marriage. Barack Obama, while defining marriage as being only between a man and a woman, would not go so far as to support California’s Proposition 8, a Constitutional amendment to outlaw gay marriages which had previously been ruled legal by the state Supreme Court. Obama won California by a landslide, so his position on gay marriage was moot. That may not last!

The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled that gays can marry in that state. This is the same state that will hold the “first in the nation” presidential caucuses in 2012. If Obama is widely popular then, the issue may not matter. However, if the economy is teetering and Obama's prospects for reelection are in doubt, then the gay marriage issue could explode.

Possible Republican challengers include Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin--all deeply opposed to gay marriage. All are likely to support an effort in Iowa (similar to the one in California) to bypass the state Supreme Court with a voter-backed Constitutional amendment. Whether that passes or not, voters will perceive all three of these candidates as being consistent, whether or not they share their position on same-gender marriage.

President Obama could be the most vulnerable candidate on the gay marriage issue. He believes marriage is only between a man and a woman; yet he enjoys great support in the gay community for backing other rights (as shown in the logo above). While he opposes gay marriage (in favor of civil unions), he did not forcefully get involved in the Proposition 8 debate in California.

Some might view Obama as wanting to have it both ways, taking positions that are inconsistent; but in 2012 he won't be able to sidestep the issue. Iowa will be the first test, and you can bet every reporter there will be asking gay marriage questions. If the state is debating a Proposition 8-type amendment, Obama will likely have to weigh in with more clarity.

Why? Well, take a look at this poll conducted by Quinnipiac University just last summer. While you have certain states that are amenable to same-sex marriage (Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts and, for a while, California), the national landscape is far less accepting.

According to the Quinnipiac poll released on July 17, 2008: “American voters oppose same-sex marriage by 55 - 36 percent, but they don't want government to get involved in banning the practice. Democrats support same-sex marriage by a narrow 47 - 43 percent margin, while Republicans oppose it 80 - 14 percent, and independent voters oppose it 49 - 43 percent. Women oppose same-sex marriage 51 - 40 percent, and men oppose it 61 - 31 percent.”

That poll will give politicians a lot of pause as they head into the 2012 presidential cycle, with the first stop in Iowa.

I predict that someday the U.S. Supreme Court will tackle the gay marriage issue under the guise of equal protection. There could be a ruling along the lines of Brown v. Board, that nullified the concept of “separate but equal” with regard to education. A similarly sympathetic high court could rule that marriage vs. civil union is another “separate but equal” provision that is unconstitutional. We’ll see. In the meantime, the gay marriage issue is likely to be front and center in Iowa in 2012, forcing those who have not yet taken a stand to do so.

One of the chapters in my book I most enjoyed writing is about the 2008 Iowa Caucuses. You can read it all by buying “Age of Obama: A Reporter’s Journey with Clinton, McCain and Obama in the Making of the President 2008.” It’s available by clicking the blue book button, on the right side of this screen.

Obama’s First Test of Leadership

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(San Jose, California)

The latest stop on my “Age of Obama: A Reporter’s Journey…” took me to the San Jose Kiwanis Club luncheon on Monday. It was a great group, with great questions. While I have been using my blog a lot lately just to promote my book, it is time for me to get back to my daily political columns.

One of the best questions at Kiwanis dealt with how President Obama would handle the test launch of missiles from North Korea and--by extension--how he would handle the nuclear desires of Iran.

The press obsession with the “first one hundred days” of the Obama administration or of any other Presidency, for that matter, is a hollow exercise. Trouble can come at any point, and for President Obama it came around “day 74.”

Israel’s Prime Minister has said his nation is prepared to take out Iran’s nuclear infrastructure even if the United States and its allies are not willing to help. Then, North Korea, as promised, has test fired its missile. North Korea has long claimed its missiles have the capability of hitting the West Coast of the United States. Whether that’s true or not is beside the point. Its missile firing has to be taken as a provocation and a threat.

So, where are these two issues being debated and discussed? For now, they are in the hands of the United Nations. Supporters of that avenue think talks and diplomacy are the best course of action; while critics say that the U.N. is a grossly ineffective body with very little backbone to back up its resolutions.

The dilemma for President Obama is one of leadership. This is no longer the campaign with its platform for platitudes and vague promises. Both of these problems will require concrete action on the world stage. The President can consult with Congress, but ultimately he must lead American foreign policy; and this is where it gets tricky. American foreign policy is usually set by precedent, not by President. A “no nukes” position against Iran and North Korea has been the stated policy of U.S. administrations, both Republican and Democrat. Obama will be pressured to stay the course; or he could create a new doctrine, which has its risks both at home and abroad.

This is often the stage where a President can fall out of popularity, especially within his own party. Obama could, after all, order some type of military action even if it is against the wishes of the left wing of his own party. Decisions at this stage should be guided by policy, not by politics. The situation with regard to North Korea and Iran is a test of wills and leadership. It will be fascinating to watch in the coming days.

Tomorrow I am going to write about the gay marriage ruling in Iowa and how it could shape the 2012 presidential campaign.

You can always buy a copy of my book by clicking on the blue book button on the right side of this screen. Thanks to all who have purchased “Age of Obama: A Reporter’s Journey with Clinton, McCain and Obama in the Making of the President 2008” (Nimble Books, LLC). By the way, if you wish to write a review of the book, you can do so at www.Amazon.com or www.BarnesandNoble.com.

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