Morning Joe Friday showcased a heated debate about just how significant President Obama’s announcement this week of his support for gay marriage really is.
For the prosecution, Joe Scarborough paraphrased conservative commentator Pat Buchanan in calling it “a big fat nothing burger.”
[F]irst of all, who among us thought that Barack Obama was ever personally against gay marriage? Anybody? Nobody. So nothing new there. Secondly, Barack Obama told Robin Roberts that he was taking the Joe Scarborough position, the William F. Buckley position, the Ron Paul position, the federalism position, the 10th amendment position, the state’s-rights position, that we’re going to let states decide about gay marriage. This is [a] conservative … position.
In other words, Scarborough argued, there was little doubt already about Obama’s personal views on gay marriage. And Obama’s statement that though he personally backs same-sex nuptials, he believes states should be able to ban them if they so choose, is shared by many small-government conservatives.
Scarborough went on to slam the media for blowing the news out of proportion. “I think the New York Times said [it] was a historic moment for gay marriage. It just wasn’t. It was nothing.”
Michael Steele, a former Republican National Committee chair, basically agreed. “There was nothing historic or heroic about what the president said,” argued Steele. “The reality is, the president is not anchored in this issue at all, and for the press to pretend that he is…is ludicrous.”
But other members of the panel disagreed. The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson wrote in a column today that Obama’s announcement recalled the heady days of 2008:
He spoke out when he didn’t have to and took a stance that might hurt him in key states, reminding us how he can surprise and inspire. Did I just catch a whiff of that hopey-changey stuff in the air?
But on the show, Scarborough asked Robinson why Obama isn’t doing more to fight for gay marriage, rather than leaving it up to the states. “If you believe that … marriage equality is a civil right protected by the constitution,” Scarborough asked, “how does anyone take any solace in the President of the United States saying, I’m going to leave this to the states?”
Robinson said Obama’s just being pragmatic. “What the president did reflects the reality,” he replied. “Thirty states have state constitutional amendments against gay marriage.
Robinson also went on to argue that Obama’s announcement gradually moves the country toward a time when same-sex marriage will be legal everywhere. “I think what the president did hastens that day,” he said. “It is a moment in a march that I do think will happen.”
And David Gregory, host of NBC’s Meet the Press, echoed that view. “I do think the bully pulpit matters. I think the president doing this matters for the debate. It kick-starts a conversation,” he said. “Just because he isn’t marching up to Congress with a bill in his hand saying, 'I demand marriage equality now,' doesn’t mean that this was not a significant moment.”
It's worth noting that though the president said states should be able to do what they want, his stance still differs sharply from that of most of the Republican Party, which backs a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage everywhere - a position the Mitt Romney campaign reiterated Thursday.
And perhaps it would be useful to look at the reactions from some actual gay people or groups. The Human Rights Campaign seems to think Obama’s announcement is about more than support for states rights, saying it “extends a message of hope to a generation of young lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans.” Beth Bye, a gay state legislator from Connecticut, told Talking Points Memo: “You just feel like you want to find President Obama and say, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.’”