President Obama helped move marriage equality forward, and his courageous statement will go down in history. "It is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married," he told ABC News. And he didn't leave it there. He went on to make a persuasive case for it. He cited gay and lesbian friends, neighbors, staff members with children, and people in the armed forces, and he talked about his children not being able to understand the discrimination against gay or lesbian parents.
Many people, including some in the black community, remain uncomfortable with marriage equality. That's why it was risky and gutsy of Obama to speak out. His position was the focus of recent sermons in black churches. Many folks believe the black community to be more homophobic than the larger community, and they blamed the black church for the passage of Proposition 8 in California, which ended same-sex marriages there. But many black churches actually stood in support of the president. It seems unlikely that Obama's position will significantly lesson his appeal within the black community.
Beyond the tremendous symbolic importance of Obama's statement, his support of same-sex marriage won't instantly change the laws on the books. And the president did say that individual states should decide the fate of same-sex couples wishing to marry. At the moment 29 states prohibit same-sex marriages, most recently North Carolina. Six states and the District of Columbia allow for same-sex marriages. And 15 states are silent on the issue in that there is no specific constitutional prohibition but de facto only opposite-sex marriages are allowed.
This patchwork is untenable. Until the U.S. Supreme Court validates same-sex marriage, as it did interracial marriage in its Loving decision on June 12, 1967, gays and lesbians will not be fully equal to other citizens of the United States. But we should applaud President Obama for bringing the day of equality closer.