The glow had barely begun to fade from President Obama’s embrace of gay marriage when it began dawning on his allies that he’s not actually going to do anything about it. It’s just a verbal soufflé, and they’re not supposed to ask about the main course.
There is real public-relations power behind the President of the United States making a “historic” declaration of support for one side in a long-running controversy, no doubt about it… but in this case, Obama was really just admitting what everyone on both sides of the debate already suspected. The impact of his big announcement is likely to become somewhat muted, once the initial media furor dies down.
The most imminent concrete issue of concern to same-sex marriage advocates is the Democrat National Convention, which is scheduled for September in Charlotte, North Carolina. This location was selected because the President wanted to win North Carolina again, after carrying the state in 2008.
However, North Carolina overwhelmingly voted to affirm traditional marriage with an amendment to the state constitution this week. A report at National Journal captures the growing mood among some Democrats to punish the state by moving their convention:
Democrats who already were queasy about the site of their national convention could be excused after Tuesday’s election in North Carolina if they asked, “Tell me again just why we’re going to Charlotte this year?”
In fact, many Democrats privately are asking exactly that after the state’s voters overwhelmingly approved a measure outlawing not just same-sex marriage – which already was illegal in North Carolina – but also any form of civil unions. Almost immediately after the vote, more than 20,000 people signed a “move the convention” petition being pushed by a New York group called Gay Marriage USA. And Twitter accounts lit up with hundreds of angry tweets demanding the party pull out of Charlotte.
Politico says that Democrat officials are adamant they will not move the convention. Such a relocation, this close to September, would surely be expensive and confusing. It would ruin the Party, already in very rough shape in North Carolina. The one-term Democrat governor, Beverly Perdue, is an epic disaster who wisely decided not to stand for re-election. The executive director of the state party apparatus, Jay Parmley, was forced to resign in a messy scandal involving the sexual harassment of a male staffer, and allegations that he gave his former girlfriend HIV.
There is also the tense issue of black voters, who are generally opposed to gay marriage, and voted by a 2-to-1 margin in favor of North Carolina’s Amendment One. Naturally, in mediaspeak, this makes them “divided” on the issue. There isn’t much chance Obama will lose a major portion of this loyal constituency with his gay marriage stance, but there might be a limit to how much disrespect they intend to take from the rest of the Democrat Party. A significant loss of enthusiasm among black voters would be very bad news in November, and not just in North Carolina.
If the convention remains in Charlotte, it might prove to be the scene of demonstrations from gay marriage activists, which is not the sort of “optic” the Democrats want. The President announced through his press secretary today that he would not push for the outright repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, and his stated position of respect for states to settle the marriage question individually leaves him with little room to castigate North Carolina, or the rest of the states which have passed traditional marriage amendments. That doesn’t sound like the formula for a placid, upbeat convention in the lovely city of Charlotte, which is located squarely between a rock and a hard place.