It's too soon to say with any certainty what the political/electoral consequences might be for President Obama now that he's expressed his support for marriage equality. It's safe to say he showed some strong leadership by taking this risk, but one can make equally compelling cases that the move will help, hurt, or have no effect on his standing.
But the president isn't the only one facing some risks on the issue. What will his Republican challenger do in response to yesterday's announcement? If Mitt Romney aggressively condemns gay rights, he risks alienating an American mainstream that is quickly becoming more tolerant and respectful. If he downplays the issues, the GOP's right-wing base will be outraged.
So, the former governor settled yesterday on a line of attack: Obama's a big flip-flopper.
For those who can't watch clips online, Romney said:
"My view is that marriage itself is a relationship between a man and a woman, and that's my own preference. I know other people have differing views. This is a very tender and sensitive topic, as are many social issues, but I have the same view I've had, uh, since, uh, well, since running for office."
Asked if Obama's been "inconsistent," the Republican added that those in the media will be able to make that determination on your own," but said, "I saw the reports that he had previously said that he opposed same-sex marriage and now, according to ABC News, he's saying he supports it."
This isn't a great message. For one thing, the less Romney talks about consistency, the better. This is, after all, a politician who's flip-flopped on more issues than any other national candidate in a generation. It's not exactly a selling point to effectively argue, "Yeah, but at least I've remained the same on stopping consenting adults from getting married."
For another, Romney hasn't been consistent.
As Rachel noted last night, Romney, as a Senate candidate in 1994, promised to be a better ally to the LGBT community than Ted Kennedy. As Alec MacGillis reports this morning, the former governor's record on gay rights is far more "awkward" than he'd like to admit.
Whether Romney sticks to this line or not, the presumptive GOP nominee expected to have at least some cover on this issue because of Obama's on-the-fence "evolution." Romney has endorsed an odious, anti-gay constitutional amendment; he opposed the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"; he's taken a stand against civil unions; and he's opposed pretty much every advancement Obama has made on this issue over the last three years. The president's opposition to marriage equality made it difficult for Obama's campaign team to go after Romney too forcefully on this issue -- but after yesterday, the contrast is easy to make.
One candidate wants the country to move forward; the other is to the right of Bush/Cheney. It sets the stage for a meaningful debate, and there's plenty of risk to go around.