By Eli MacKinnon
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
President Barack Obama's unequivocal endorsement of same-sex marriage sparked joy and outrage in Brooklyn yesterday.
In interviews with the Eagle, supporters of gay rights reacted with glee to the historic declaration; opponents were not pleased but also not surprised.
“The entire community is very thrilled by this position he’s taking,” said Matthew McMorrow, co-president of Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn, a Park Slope-based lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender political organization. "It’s courageous right before the election and it’s time he did come out in support of it."
“I’m not surprised,” said Mike Long of Bay Ridge, chairman of the state's Conservative Party. “When he was state senator back in 1996 he was for same-sex marriage. Then he was immediately for traditional marriage when running for president. Once [Vice President Joe] Biden made the stretch, I knew that he was going to very rapidly follow suit.”
Obama had long described his position on same-sex marriage as “evolving,” and in Wednesday afternoon’s interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts, he presented his new position as the completion of a personal evolution.
Citing his empathy for the gay men and women on his own staff and in the armed services, the president said, "I've just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”
His explicit declaration sent political shock waves across the country that are likely to continue to reverberate during the lead-up to the November election.
While Obama’s reversal of his hands-off position on same-sex marriage may be a risky political move, Lambda's McMorrow doesn’t think it will have a significant negative impact on the president's reelection prospects.
Instead, McMorrow thinks that Obama’s announcement will shore up support from a wide swath of his liberal base without losing votes from detractors of same-sex marriage, a demographic that he says was already “suspicious” that the president supported gay marriage rights.
“The people that vote because of their opposition to marriage equality were not going to vote for Obama,” he said. “What this does is that many of the people who supported him anyway are reassured that he is supportive of equality.”
The one thing that Brooklyn political and community leaders on both sides of the issue seemed to agree on was that Obama’s announcement had been a long time coming.
Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Borough Park), like Long, believes that Obama’s announcement was forced by Biden’s public endorsement on Sunday of same-sex marriage rights — and that the president’s avowed evolution was not personal but political.
“I’m just surprised it took him so long," said Hikind, whose district includes many conservative Orthodox Jews who oppose same-sex marriage.
"The bill of goods that they sold the American people that this was evolving, this was developing, is totally dishonest. It suddenly evolved on a Wednesday afternoon? That’s why politics has a bad name."
"I think he was forced into taking this position at this particular moment," Hikind said. "I think politically he would have rather waited until after the election.”
Borough President Marty Markowitz, a longtime supporter of same-sex marriage, was characteristically rhapsodic about the president’s commitment to marriage for all, and he saw nothing unbelievable about the possibility of a personal evolution.
“What the president is endorsing here is very simple: everyone deserves the right to a civil, government-recognized marriage,” he said in a written statement. “Our Almighty didn’t make all of us alike, and our laws shouldn’t be a ‘one size fits all’ definition of marriage, commitment and family, either.
"Like President Obama, my feelings on this issue evolved over time, and I am proud to stand with him and the LGBT community today in declaring that ‘love is love.'"