You have to hand it to Dick Cheney. The man knows how to generate headlines. After a month of chastising President Obama on the closing of Gitmo, the potential handling of detainees, and for supposedly making America less safe, he has now ventured into sacred territory for social conservatives—the gay marriage debate. Cheney is evidently in favour of same-sex unions, and while he did not use the m-word, many are already saying the former vice-president is ahead of Obama on this controversial issue. Never mind that he stayed silent during the eight years of the Bush Administration and said precious little when the president pushed for (but ultimately failed to get) a constitutional amendment preventing gay marriage. The fact that one of his daughters is gay may have a lot to do with it, but I believe his statement reinforces my conviction that gay marriage in America is inevitable. Court cases, pending legislation in a growing number of states, an emerging Supreme court case to be argued by Ted Olsen and David Boies (two opposing lawyers in Gore v. Bush), a new battle to come against Proposition 8 in California, and now Dick Cheney are all making an eloquent case for same sex unions, which reinforces the momentum in favor of gay activists.
While Cheney speaks of equality, Olsen and Boies speak of civil rights. The discourse is starting to transcend party lines and even the ideological divide so typical of the American culture wars of years past. The vernacular is starting to sound like that of the 1960’s civil rights movement and the rhetoric that we in Canada are accustomed to. Yes, America has changed and is changing. This debate would have been anathema two years ago. Whether Cheney is late in speaking out is not an issue; just saying what he said makes all the difference. Gay activists like journalist and blogger Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic, an Obama supporter from early on, had to concede that Cheney may have helped advance the issue in ways that no Democrat has.
Gay activists are carefully watching the Obama White House on this and other issues of concern to the gay community. Changing the policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the military is under consideration by the administration and the expectation is that Obama will fulfill this electoral promise. Barring entry to the US of admitted HIV virus carriers is also expected to change under Obama. Clearly, gay activists who have applauded Obama policies in most areas are disappointed with the pace of movement on issues dear to their community. My take is that the Obama people do not want to sidetrack their agenda on the economy, foreign policy, healthcare and the environment by tackling too early in their mandate controversial issues concerning the gay community, as was the case with the Clinton Administration at the beginning of their term. One recalls that JFK did not prioritize civil rights when he was freshly elected. Unfortunately, it took fire hoses, police dogs and the murder of civil rights marchers to make addressing the issue a “moral imperative.” One hopes President Obama will not wait to be pushed into action. I believe Obama is strongly committed to change in this area and, ironically, his best ally may well be Dick Cheney.