Commentary Magazine


Topic: gay marriage

The Court, Marriage, and Federal Power

After two days of hearings on cases relating to the legality of measures opposing gay marriage, it is not possible to discern what will happen when the U.S. Supreme Court hands down its rulings. The puzzling and illogical decision on ObamaCare last year should inhibit court watchers from attempting to extrapolate votes from the exchanges between the justices and the attorneys arguing the cases. And given the not inconsiderable number of options that the court has before it when it finally issues rulings about California’s Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the result could be just as confusing and inconclusive as the arguments that have been aired this week. That makes it as unlikely that the court will act to impose a right to gay marriage on the entire country as it is that it would attempt to prohibit it in those states where legislatures have enshrined it in law as a right.

But if, as gay marriage proponents seem to think, the tide of public opinion has irrevocably shifted on the issue from where it was in 1996 when Congress overwhelmingly passed and Bill Clinton signed DOMA, or even when the voters of California endorsed a constitutional amendment prohibiting state recognition of gay marriage, then it is possible that the court will listen to the polls and do on this issue what it did 40 years ago on abortion with Roe v. Wade. Irrespective of where one comes down on gay marriage, that would not be good for the country.

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After two days of hearings on cases relating to the legality of measures opposing gay marriage, it is not possible to discern what will happen when the U.S. Supreme Court hands down its rulings. The puzzling and illogical decision on ObamaCare last year should inhibit court watchers from attempting to extrapolate votes from the exchanges between the justices and the attorneys arguing the cases. And given the not inconsiderable number of options that the court has before it when it finally issues rulings about California’s Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the result could be just as confusing and inconclusive as the arguments that have been aired this week. That makes it as unlikely that the court will act to impose a right to gay marriage on the entire country as it is that it would attempt to prohibit it in those states where legislatures have enshrined it in law as a right.

But if, as gay marriage proponents seem to think, the tide of public opinion has irrevocably shifted on the issue from where it was in 1996 when Congress overwhelmingly passed and Bill Clinton signed DOMA, or even when the voters of California endorsed a constitutional amendment prohibiting state recognition of gay marriage, then it is possible that the court will listen to the polls and do on this issue what it did 40 years ago on abortion with Roe v. Wade. Irrespective of where one comes down on gay marriage, that would not be good for the country.

Let’s first acknowledge that the culture war about homosexuality has been convincingly won by gays. Twenty years ago the already widespread acceptance of openly gay figures in pop culture had not transferred to the political sphere. Indeed, as recently as 2008, a staunch liberal like Barack Obama had to swear his opposition to gay marriage in order to be considered a mainstream political figure. But that is no longer the case. While national attitudes are still far from unanimous, anyone who would argue that the trend toward its acceptance is not accelerating to the point where opponents are becoming a beleaguered minority has not been paying attention. While defenders of traditional marriage can still put forward coherent arguments about the assault on the institution, appeals to the basic libertarian instincts of most Americans are winning the day for the pro-gay marriage point of view. Nor do the claims that gays marrying would materially damage straight marriages seem to have much traction. A political environment in which most people see the issue as one of equal rights for all citizens, as opposed to one about the distortion of the meaning of an institution to suit the whims of a minority, is not one that is sustainable for gay marriage opponents.

That is exactly why the courts can and should defer to the legislative process to sort out this issue.

It may be that the argument put forward that denying gay marriage is a violation of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment equal protection guarantees is accepted by most Americans. If the high court were to unilaterally rewrite the meaning of the Constitution in that way, it might please not only the media and the pop culture world but perhaps a majority of the country. But such a broad stroke would create other problems that are best avoided.

While seemingly harmless, the rush to codify gay marriage as a constitutional right contains within it the possibility of creating a genuine danger of discrimination against religious faiths that oppose the idea. Catholic institutions (already under assault from federal mandates on reproductive issues) as well as Orthodox Jews, the Greek Orthodox and a host of evangelical Protestant denominations could be put in the awkward position of not just being labeled as bigots but as possible law breakers because of their beliefs due to new requirements to recognize and grant benefits due to spouses. If there is to be a right of gay marriage it must be enacted with stipulations that exempt religious institutions as well as clergy from any repercussions from a refusal to go along with the new consensus. That is the sort of sensible compromise that is far more likely to be brought about by the legislative process than a top-down court ruling.

Gay marriage advocates argue in reply that civil rights cannot be subject to the majority vote but rather must be protected by the law regardless of the whims of the mob, as the founding fathers would have understood the issue. They point to the struggle for racial equality in this country in which the courts played a necessary role in both protecting liberty and in prodding the legislatures and public opinion to catch up with what was right. But however much this issue is represented as one that can only be understood as a question of equality, the creation of a new right via the redefinition of an institution is not quite the same thing as righting the wrongs of slavery. The pro-gay marriage side must understand that it is asking the federal government to go into uncharted waters in that respect, as well as by taking this issue away from local institutions that have always governed interactions between the state and married couples.

Change is best achieved when it is accomplished via the democratic process and with respect for the rights of individual states to sort these things out according to the beliefs of its citizens.

If gay marriage advocates are confident, as they probably should be, that time and public opinion are on their side, then they should concentrate their efforts on winning their battle in the legislatures. That is something they have been doing with increasing success in recent years. Were the court to short-circuit that struggle it would set off a new and bitter struggle over the issue that would distort our politics and roil the culture for years and perhaps decades to come.

While the temptation to enact an all-or-nothing proposition in response to the baffling choices before it may entice some of the justices, they should listen to the voices of caution and avoid such a solution. That might mean punting on the California case, in which it can be argued that Prop 8’s supporters don’t have the standing to argue against its invalidation by state courts, as well as by striking down DOMA as a wrongful federal interference with a state matter.

That would disappoint conservatives who hope the court might save the country from the drive to enshrine gay marriage in various states. But in these cases, as in so many other issues, the greater wisdom always rests in restraining the power of the federal government to impose its will on the states and the people. If America is truly “evolving”—as liberals would have it—toward acceptance of gay marriage, then let it do so by the democratic process and not by a court eager to stay ahead of or get out of the way of public opinion.

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Moral Presuppositions and Politics

In an essay that appears in a book he edited, Imaginative Apologetics, the theologian Andrew Davison tells about being in India and coming across a person with leprosy. As a Christian, he saw the leper and felt compassion and aided him, though much to the unease of Indians. It then struck him that those who believe in karma and reincarnation, as Hindus do, see a leper as someone atoning for past sins and doing what needs to be done for a future, and better, reincarnation. So they interpreted aiding the leper as doing something inappropriate.

Davison wrote, “We do not first see neutrally, and then interpret. The leper is seen as unfortunate, as someone upon whom to show pity, or seen as a miscreant, as someone to be reviled. Axioms operate at this very direct level as well as in more discursive reasoning.”

Professor Davison uses this illustration to show how our worldviews shape our interpretation of events and reality, to demonstrate how people can see the same situation and react to them in wholly different ways. 

This doesn’t mean there is no such thing as objective truth. I’m not post-modern enough to believe that reality is something that is simply shaped by, and objectionable actions can be simply excused by, interpretation. But Davison’s illustration can help civilize our politics just a bit. Let me explain what I mean.

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In an essay that appears in a book he edited, Imaginative Apologetics, the theologian Andrew Davison tells about being in India and coming across a person with leprosy. As a Christian, he saw the leper and felt compassion and aided him, though much to the unease of Indians. It then struck him that those who believe in karma and reincarnation, as Hindus do, see a leper as someone atoning for past sins and doing what needs to be done for a future, and better, reincarnation. So they interpreted aiding the leper as doing something inappropriate.

Davison wrote, “We do not first see neutrally, and then interpret. The leper is seen as unfortunate, as someone upon whom to show pity, or seen as a miscreant, as someone to be reviled. Axioms operate at this very direct level as well as in more discursive reasoning.”

Professor Davison uses this illustration to show how our worldviews shape our interpretation of events and reality, to demonstrate how people can see the same situation and react to them in wholly different ways. 

This doesn’t mean there is no such thing as objective truth. I’m not post-modern enough to believe that reality is something that is simply shaped by, and objectionable actions can be simply excused by, interpretation. But Davison’s illustration can help civilize our politics just a bit. Let me explain what I mean.

Most of us assume people see issues – abortion, same-sex marriage, gun control, higher taxes on top income earners, entitlement reform, illegal immigration, climate change, judicial originalism, criminal justice, enhanced interrogation techniques, drone strikes, the Iraq war, and many others – through essentially the same prism we do. But it’s rather more complicated than that. 

Our interpretative frame and intellectual and moral tropisms are the product of many factors. The philosopher Cornelius Van Til once said that there is no such thing as a brute fact. Our presumptions alter the way we interpret things, including justice. For example, if one views abortion entirely through the lens of a woman’s right to choose, then restricting abortions is a gratuitous offense. If one views abortion through the prism of the rights of an unborn child, on the other hand, then subsidizing abortion is a grave transgression.

Or take same sex marriage. Some believe championing gay marriage places one on the side of equality, tolerance, and human dignity, as heirs of the civil rights struggle. On the flip side, opponents of gay marriage often root their views in their understanding of male-female complementarity, procreation and the health of the institution of marriage. They are acting to defend what they believe are traditional and necessary social norms. The differences on this issue can be explained by reasons other than bigotry on the one hand or wanting to rip apart our social fabric on the other.

What happens is we tend to deny to those with whom we disagree any benefit of the doubt. We assume they see facts, events and justice just as we do, which makes their differing conclusions from us very nearly inexplicable. This in turn makes it easy to characterize one’s opponents as malignant. Only a cretin could hold views at odds with ours. See Paul Krugman’s attitude toward those who differ with him for more.

It really would help our political culture if we understood that every one of us has an imperfect angle on reality and that our presuppositions refract truth. That our perception of justice is always distorted, even just a little bit. All of us see through a glass darkly and know things only in part. 

That doesn’t mean that some people aren’t much closer than others to apprehending truth, beauty, and goodness. Nor do I believe for a moment that efforts at persuasion are fruitless. I just happen to believe that Professor Davison’s illustration is a good one to bear in mind from time to time. If we did, our politics might be characterized by a touch more grace, a bit less anger, and a little more sympathy. There are worse things in the world.

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GOP Can’t Be the Party of Old White Men

Mitt Romney did not lose the presidency last night because he was too “moderate” or because he was “severely conservative.” He did not lose because hurricane Sandy stopped his momentum or because he coasted to the finish line or because he did not press harder on questions about Benghazi. Romney lost because the Democratic Party enjoyed a six-point advantage in party identification last night, nearly as wide a gap between the parties as its seven-point advantage in 2008. Whether this is the emerging Democratic majority that John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira predicted eight years ago, or whether it is merely an ad hoc coalition in support of Barack Obama’s unique candidacy, is a question that only time (and another election or two) can answer.

What is clear is that the Republican Party has painted itself into a demographic corner. Hispanics have turned decisively against it, and the young have too. On Fox News last night, the Democratic pollster and consultant Pat Caddell said the Republicans’ “branding problem is reminiscent of the Whigs.” Exactly so. If the party does not adapt to the shifting demographics of the American electorate, it will become a permanent minority, if not extinct.

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Mitt Romney did not lose the presidency last night because he was too “moderate” or because he was “severely conservative.” He did not lose because hurricane Sandy stopped his momentum or because he coasted to the finish line or because he did not press harder on questions about Benghazi. Romney lost because the Democratic Party enjoyed a six-point advantage in party identification last night, nearly as wide a gap between the parties as its seven-point advantage in 2008. Whether this is the emerging Democratic majority that John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira predicted eight years ago, or whether it is merely an ad hoc coalition in support of Barack Obama’s unique candidacy, is a question that only time (and another election or two) can answer.

What is clear is that the Republican Party has painted itself into a demographic corner. Hispanics have turned decisively against it, and the young have too. On Fox News last night, the Democratic pollster and consultant Pat Caddell said the Republicans’ “branding problem is reminiscent of the Whigs.” Exactly so. If the party does not adapt to the shifting demographics of the American electorate, it will become a permanent minority, if not extinct.

The party—and the conservative movement for which it serves as the electoral arm—must be reformed. But where to begin? I am only a poor literary critic, not a political pundit, but I have some ideas. The Republicans are the party of married churchgoers at a time when marriage and churchgoing are in decline. Hence (at least in part) its declining share of the vote total. It can’t suddenly cease to be the party of married churchgoers without betraying itself and its core constituency. Marriage and churches are among the “mediating institutions” that conservatism most warmly affirms, because they stand between the individual and the encroachments of the state. To defend them is to defend freedom. (Calling the GOP the party of married churchgoers is just another way of calling it the party of freedom). Besides, to change course at this stage of history, to abandon the party’s core, is hardly guaranteed to arrest the decline.

If the Republicans are going to be the party of married churchgoers, though, they need to change their tune on two key issues. They must drop their opposition to same-sex marriage, and they must quit obsessing over illegal immigrants. These two issues alone are almost entirely responsible for the Republicans’ image and reputation as the party of old white men.

What conservatives do not seem to grasp is that same-sex marriage is not an issue for gays only, but also for the young, who support it overwhelmingly, without question. And if the GOP really is the party of marriage, shouldn’t it be in favor of extending the goods of marriage to as many as possible? If marriage is everything we conservatives say it is, why should we want to deny its moral benefits to gays? The point is to stand for marriage, for an institution that promotes human freedom, and not to barricade ourselves behind the status quo ante. That’s how the party of freedom becomes the party of reaction.

So too on immigration. What many on the right have failed to understand is that demands to tighten the border, loud howls of outrage over any proposal to grant amnesty to “illegal aliens,” are deeply offensive to Hispanics and likely to estrange them from the Republican Party for a generation. Tom Wolfe explains why. Like many on the right, he had always assumed that

Mexicans who had gone to the trouble of coming to the United States legally, going through all the prescribed steps, would resent the fact that millions of Mexicans were now coming into the United States illegally across the desert border. I couldn’t have been more mistaken. I discovered that everyone who thought of himself as Latin, even people who had been in this country for two and three generations, were wholeheartedly in favor of immediate amnesty and immediate citizenship for all Mexicans who happened now to be in the United States. And this feeling had nothing to do with immigration policy itself, nothing to do with law, nothing to do with politics, for that matter. To them, this was not a debate about immigration. The very existence of the debate itself was to them a besmirching of their fiction-absolute, of their conception of themselves as Latins. Somehow the debate, simply as a debate, cast an aspersion upon all Latins, implying doubt about their fitness to be within the border of such a superior nation.

The voices of immigration restrictionists on the right have pushed Hispanics into identifying with their ethnic group rather than encouraging them to identify themselves as something else instead—as churchgoers, for instance.

The Republican Party cannot win by playing the Democrats’ game of identity politics, but perhaps it might improve its chances by emphasizing a different kind of identity altogether—not identification with the special-interest groups that make up an unsteady coalition, but with stable institutions like marriage and church that enable men and women to be free.

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Could Gay Marriage Amendment Tip Minnesota to Romney?

That was George Will’s prediction on ABC’s “This Week” yesterday (h/t Jeff Poor): 

The anti-gay marriage amendment will bring religious voters out to the polls, but will it be enough of a margin to swing the vote for Romney? A couple of recent polls, including PPP’s yesterday, found that more voters oppose the anti-gay marriage amendment than support it. But if that’s the case on election day, it will be unprecedented — gay marriage has lost in all 32 states where it’s been up for a vote. If that changes in Minnesota tomorrow, it could mark the beginning of a political shift. 

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That was George Will’s prediction on ABC’s “This Week” yesterday (h/t Jeff Poor): 

The anti-gay marriage amendment will bring religious voters out to the polls, but will it be enough of a margin to swing the vote for Romney? A couple of recent polls, including PPP’s yesterday, found that more voters oppose the anti-gay marriage amendment than support it. But if that’s the case on election day, it will be unprecedented — gay marriage has lost in all 32 states where it’s been up for a vote. If that changes in Minnesota tomorrow, it could mark the beginning of a political shift. 

Beyond that, the polls are all over the place for Romney in Minnesota. Saturday’s poll by the conservative American Future Fund found the race a dead-heat. But yesterday’s PPP poll found Obama up by eight points, and today’s Survey USA found him leading by double-digits. So if Romney does win Minnesota, it would be a major upset, and not just because it would be the first time in nine presidential elections that the state went for a Republican.

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A Vote For Obama Isn’t a Vote for Gay Rights

As we know by now, five days before the election, President Obama is unable to run on his record, and has chosen not to run on a plan for the next four years. The president has instead been dependent on scare tactics–probably because he himself is quite scared. With the polling numbers coming out of swing states that were once reliably blue, like Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Michigan, he should be nervous about his looming possible unemployment. 

Only six months after Obama’s “evolution” (read: flip-flop) on gay marriage, he’s now basing a large portion of his campaign messaging on the subject. Hollywood elites have finally come in line with giving him some endorsements and have thrown fundraisers for the president, albeit not nearly as enthusiastically as they did four years ago. In the swing state of Wisconsin, a 20-something friend told me that for every ten ads she hears on her Pandora radio station, eight have been purchased by Obama’s reelection campaign. Many of these ads, she’s told me, implore her to vote for the president lest they find themselves unable to look their gay friends in the eye after election day. How could they vote against their friends’ own civil rights and liberties? Today on the Huffington Post a similar message appears,

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As we know by now, five days before the election, President Obama is unable to run on his record, and has chosen not to run on a plan for the next four years. The president has instead been dependent on scare tactics–probably because he himself is quite scared. With the polling numbers coming out of swing states that were once reliably blue, like Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Michigan, he should be nervous about his looming possible unemployment. 

Only six months after Obama’s “evolution” (read: flip-flop) on gay marriage, he’s now basing a large portion of his campaign messaging on the subject. Hollywood elites have finally come in line with giving him some endorsements and have thrown fundraisers for the president, albeit not nearly as enthusiastically as they did four years ago. In the swing state of Wisconsin, a 20-something friend told me that for every ten ads she hears on her Pandora radio station, eight have been purchased by Obama’s reelection campaign. Many of these ads, she’s told me, implore her to vote for the president lest they find themselves unable to look their gay friends in the eye after election day. How could they vote against their friends’ own civil rights and liberties? Today on the Huffington Post a similar message appears,

If I hear one more person explain how, even though they believe in gay rights, they’re voting for Romney, I’m going to lose my mind. We need to find ways to reach these people who say they love us and call us friends.

That’s a pretty heavy gauntlet. The bottom line for that writer is that a vote for Romney is a vote against your gay friends and family. But is it?

Unlike Obama, Romney has barely uttered a word about social issues, steering clear of gay marriage and abortion and instead focusing on encouraging voters to consider his economic and foreign policy plans. A vote for Romney, for many, isn’t a vote against gays, but instead a vote for providing for their families and keeping their country safe from the very serious risks posed by countries like Iran, China, and yes, even Russia. 

Like he has been for the last four years on many other issues, President Obama is a lot of talk and very little action on gay rights, aside from reversing the draconian Bush-era policy of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell… Wait. Oh, that was written and enacted by the Clinton White House? Well, it’s a good thing Obama has repudiated that bigoted former president. Except that he hasn’t, and Clinton has instead been one of Obama’s most effective surrogates, both at the DNC and on the stump. The only change in the last four years that Obama has attempted, let alone executed, for gay rights is to reverse a policy enacted by his Democratic predecessor. Back in April, before his gay marriage flip-flop, President Obama had the ability to enact an executive order to protect gay and lesbian government contractors from workplace discrimination. Instead, in the Washington Posts words, “he punted.”

And what about the next four years? What strides will Obama make for gay rights? Released just last week, the President’s plan “Forward” contains zero promises or pledges to the gay community. Despite relying heavily on gay and lesbian couples for fundraising efforts, it appears they should expect nothing in return. 

As Obama’s actions both before and after his gay marriage flip-flop have shown, his commitment to gay rights appears to be merely one of convenience. Four years ago, it was politically expedient to be against gay marriage, thus President Obama made statements to that effect. In May, after Vice President Biden blurted out his previously unmentioned support of gay marriage, President Obama found it politically necessary to either repudiate his own vice president or change his stance, and chose to do the latter. He was rewarded with a flood of donations and a boost with youth voters who were unenthusiastic about going to the polls for a president who accomplished very little of what he promised four years ago. We now know what Obama believes, but we’re again left wondering, what is he going to do about it? If the last four years and his own reelection campaign promises are any indication, very little. 

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Chicago and Boston Chose Liberalism Over First Amendment

Last week, I discussed liberal intolerance of those in opposition of their particular viewpoints, and almost on cue, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino came onto the scene today to embody the ideals of modern-day liberalism: tolerance of only those with whom they already agree. Both mayors expressed support for same-sex marriage and not only expressed their personal opposition to Chick-fil-A’s social conservatism, but also those of their cities.

In a public letter to Chick-fil-A’s President Dan Cathy, and carbon copied to the owner of a property that it appears Chick-fil-A would occupy, Mayor Menino expressed his opposition to the chicken restaurant’s plans to locate in Boston. The strongly worded letter reads in part, “I was angry to learn on the heels of your prejudiced statements about your search for a site to locate in Boston. There is no place for discrimination on Boston’s Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it.”

To be clear, Chick-fil-A discriminates against no one, not employees and not customers; its policies expressly forbid it. Chick-fil-A and its president have expressed their support of the traditional family and Christian values, which are not by definition anti-gay. Their charitable organization, WinShape, has donated money not only to organizations that support traditional marriage, but also to foster homes, college scholarships and international relief efforts. Chick-fil-A’s other charitable contributions are irrelevant to those who view anyone who is not with them on the quest to redefine marriage as a bigot who must be taken down at any cost.

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Last week, I discussed liberal intolerance of those in opposition of their particular viewpoints, and almost on cue, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino came onto the scene today to embody the ideals of modern-day liberalism: tolerance of only those with whom they already agree. Both mayors expressed support for same-sex marriage and not only expressed their personal opposition to Chick-fil-A’s social conservatism, but also those of their cities.

In a public letter to Chick-fil-A’s President Dan Cathy, and carbon copied to the owner of a property that it appears Chick-fil-A would occupy, Mayor Menino expressed his opposition to the chicken restaurant’s plans to locate in Boston. The strongly worded letter reads in part, “I was angry to learn on the heels of your prejudiced statements about your search for a site to locate in Boston. There is no place for discrimination on Boston’s Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it.”

To be clear, Chick-fil-A discriminates against no one, not employees and not customers; its policies expressly forbid it. Chick-fil-A and its president have expressed their support of the traditional family and Christian values, which are not by definition anti-gay. Their charitable organization, WinShape, has donated money not only to organizations that support traditional marriage, but also to foster homes, college scholarships and international relief efforts. Chick-fil-A’s other charitable contributions are irrelevant to those who view anyone who is not with them on the quest to redefine marriage as a bigot who must be taken down at any cost.

Not to be outdone, Chicago’s Mayor (and Barack Obama’s former chief of staff) Rahm Emanuel announced support of a Chicago alderman’s refusal to approve a building permit for Chick-fil-A in one of Chicago’s wards. The Volokh Conspiracy explains just how unconstitutional this move is:

But denying a private business permits because of such speech by its owner is a blatant First Amendment violation. Even when it comes to government contracting — where the government is choosing how to spend government money — the government generally may not discriminate based on the contractor’s speech, see Board of County Commissioners v. Umbehr (1996). It is even clearer that the government may not make decisions about how people will be allowed to use their own property based on the speaker’s past speech.

And this is so even if there is no statutory right to a particular kind of building permit (and I don’t know what the rule is under Illinois law). Even if the government may deny permits to people based on various reasons, it may not deny permits to people based on their exercise of his First Amendment rights. It doesn’t matter if the applicant expresses speech that doesn’t share the government officials’ values, or even the values of the majority of local citizens. It doesn’t matter if the applicant’s speech is seen as “disrespect[ful]” of certain groups. The First Amendment generally protects people’s rights to express such views without worrying that the government will deny them business permits as a result. That’s basic First Amendment law — but Alderman Moreno, Mayor Menino, and, apparently, Mayor Emanuel (if his statement is quoted in context), seem to either not know or not care about the law.

Of course, if Chick-fil-A actually discriminated in their serving or hiring decisions in Chicago in a way forbidden by Chicago or Illinois law, they could be punished for this violation, and possibly even denied future permits based on such illegal behavior. But the stories give no evidence of any such actions, and suggest that the city officials’ statements are based on the Chick-fil-A president’s speech, not any illegal conduct on the company’s part. Finally, note that the government may generally insist that, when it hires people to communicate a government message, those people use that government money only for the government-selected speech (see Rust v. Sullivan (1991)); but that power of the government to control its own speech is far removed from the government’s attempt in this case to retaliate against businesses for their owners’ speech.

Imagine, for a moment, if Governors Rick Perry or Chris Christie banned the sale of Ben & Jerry’s from their states because of that company’s support of same-sex marriage. What if, as his first act as president, Mitt Romney banned the Muppets from government-funded PBS after the Jim Henson company expressed their opposition to Chick-fil-A? You can just hear the wails of the editorial pages of the New York Times and Washington Post, the anchors of every major news station (including Fox) crying “FASCISM!” They would be absolutely correct in their charge. Using the government’s power to restrict commerce based on a personal vendetta is a chilling next step in a culture war that has turned business owners, job creators and people of faith into public enemies.

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There’s More to the “Flip-Flopper” Label

In March 2010, Jim Geraghty published what was, to that point, “The Complete List of Obama Statement Expiration Dates.” It listed about 25 or so promises the president broke in his first year in office, plus an addendum of about 20 promises that “expired” during the campaign. In the two years since, there have been more, which Geraghty has documented as well. And the most recent of these has also become the most famous: President Obama’s self-proclaimed “evolution” on the issue of gay marriage.

Unlike his opponent, however, the media has resolutely refused to trifle the president with the appropriate label: the president is quite clearly a “flip-flopper.” Why the double standard? There is more to it than the obvious media bias.

As the Washington Post notes in an interesting article on the subject (please ignore the Post’s unforgivable headline), since John Kerry and, to a lesser extent, Al Gore, were cast as craven opportunists, it is not enough that Romney is a Republican and Obama a Democrat. But those party tags do actually factor into it, the article finds, though not simply because of the visible press bias. The article describes a new study based on an experiment testing voters’ reactions to flip-floppery, in which they are asked to react to one political type who promises to change his positions as the people do, and the other who promises to stay true to his principles:

These candidates represent a classic argument in political philosophy between the view of John Stuart Mill, the British philosopher who said that democratically elected officials should reflect constituents’ views, and that of Edmund Burke, the Irish-born political thinker who argued that we elect representatives with strong values so they will follow their principles.

Voters who preferred Candidate B — Burke’s view — responded much more negatively to candidates who changed their minds on issues, said Barker, director-designate of the Institute for Social Research at California State University at Sacramento. Those voters generally prefer conservative Republicans and are more likely to rely on religious faith to guide their political choices.

Voters who preferred Candidate A — Mill’s view — were much more accepting of candidates who flipped on issues. These voters, mostly drawn to more liberal, Democratic candidates, tend to be more secular and believe that as the people’s views shift, so should their leaders’.

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In March 2010, Jim Geraghty published what was, to that point, “The Complete List of Obama Statement Expiration Dates.” It listed about 25 or so promises the president broke in his first year in office, plus an addendum of about 20 promises that “expired” during the campaign. In the two years since, there have been more, which Geraghty has documented as well. And the most recent of these has also become the most famous: President Obama’s self-proclaimed “evolution” on the issue of gay marriage.

Unlike his opponent, however, the media has resolutely refused to trifle the president with the appropriate label: the president is quite clearly a “flip-flopper.” Why the double standard? There is more to it than the obvious media bias.

As the Washington Post notes in an interesting article on the subject (please ignore the Post’s unforgivable headline), since John Kerry and, to a lesser extent, Al Gore, were cast as craven opportunists, it is not enough that Romney is a Republican and Obama a Democrat. But those party tags do actually factor into it, the article finds, though not simply because of the visible press bias. The article describes a new study based on an experiment testing voters’ reactions to flip-floppery, in which they are asked to react to one political type who promises to change his positions as the people do, and the other who promises to stay true to his principles:

These candidates represent a classic argument in political philosophy between the view of John Stuart Mill, the British philosopher who said that democratically elected officials should reflect constituents’ views, and that of Edmund Burke, the Irish-born political thinker who argued that we elect representatives with strong values so they will follow their principles.

Voters who preferred Candidate B — Burke’s view — responded much more negatively to candidates who changed their minds on issues, said Barker, director-designate of the Institute for Social Research at California State University at Sacramento. Those voters generally prefer conservative Republicans and are more likely to rely on religious faith to guide their political choices.

Voters who preferred Candidate A — Mill’s view — were much more accepting of candidates who flipped on issues. These voters, mostly drawn to more liberal, Democratic candidates, tend to be more secular and believe that as the people’s views shift, so should their leaders’.

That conservatives were more drawn to a Burkean philosophy on governing isn’t too surprising. Far more interesting is the finding that liberals are much less likely to object to flip-flopping in the first place.

This helps explain why someone like John Kerry–a starkly unlikable figure for whom the label “flip-flopper” seemed particularly apt–could win the Democratic nomination despite all the obvious red flags of his candidacy. It also helps explain why Mitt Romney had such difficulty winning the Republican nomination even though he had a four-year head start and aside from Rick Perry, who possessed a strong record but who stumbled badly in the debates, the path seemed clear for Romney. He struggled not against other strong candidacies but the popular composite candidate known as Not Romney.

It is conservatives, therefore, who branded Romney a flip-flopper long before he had the chance to face John Kerry’s fate of being so labeled during the general election. The right, not nearly so tolerant of unprincipled politicians as the left, immediately flagged what seemed like Romney’s politics of convenience.

The other key takeaway from this is that it surely depends on which issues a candidate flip-flops. The Post article, to emphasize this, begins with Abraham Lincoln’s flip-flop on federal intervention to free slaves. But here is how the Post frames the other element in choosing the “right” issue on which to evolve:

In the end, voters are especially willing to accept a shift in politicians’ positions “if it’s an issue where the public has evolved in its own thinking,” Garin said.

With this in mind, it’s useful to look at two of the candidates’ more controversial changes. Obama’s switch on gay marriage, polls indicate, show him to be swimming with the tide. The public on the whole may not be overwhelmingly in favor of gay marriage, but the trend is toward wider acceptance. It is logical to expect those who have undergone similar “evolutions” on the policy to give the president the benefit of the doubt here.

Romney’s more controversial change, however, is on abortion. It’s true that he has embraced the pro-life position, but voters–especially those on the right–remain skeptical. As such, he may be swimming with the tide–self-identified pro-life voters are increasing, while pro-choice voters are decreasing–but conservative doubt prevents him from fully capitalizing on the switch.

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Will Gay Marriage Oust Military Chaplains?

The question of legalization of same-sex marriages is generally presented as one of protecting the individual rights of gay citizens. And so long as the issue is merely one of whether the state should interfere with the desire of two persons to live as they like, that’s an argument that strongly appeals to the libertarian instincts of the majority of Americans. However, the problem arises when approval leads to government mandates that affect religious faiths that don’t approve of these relationships. That is why Catholic and Orthodox Jewish agencies have been chased out of the adoption field in certain states. And if President Obama has his way on the issue, the next victims may be military chaplains.

As CNSNews.com reports:

The Obama administration “strongly objects” to provisions in a House defense authorization bill that would prohibit the use of military property for same-sex “marriage or marriage-like” ceremonies, and protect military chaplains from negative repercussions for refusing to act against their consciences, as, for example, in being ordered to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony.

While there are arguments that can be mustered against prohibiting the use of military facilities for same-sex ceremonies, opposition to a measure that would ensure that chaplains couldn’t be ordered to officiate would imply a degree of compulsion that transforms the issue into a religious freedom fight rather than one of gay rights. If President Obama does veto the protections offered to chaplains by the House — as his Office of Management and Budget recommends — then it is possible to envision a future where Catholic, evangelical and Orthodox Jewish clergy will no longer be welcome as military chaplains.

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The question of legalization of same-sex marriages is generally presented as one of protecting the individual rights of gay citizens. And so long as the issue is merely one of whether the state should interfere with the desire of two persons to live as they like, that’s an argument that strongly appeals to the libertarian instincts of the majority of Americans. However, the problem arises when approval leads to government mandates that affect religious faiths that don’t approve of these relationships. That is why Catholic and Orthodox Jewish agencies have been chased out of the adoption field in certain states. And if President Obama has his way on the issue, the next victims may be military chaplains.

As CNSNews.com reports:

The Obama administration “strongly objects” to provisions in a House defense authorization bill that would prohibit the use of military property for same-sex “marriage or marriage-like” ceremonies, and protect military chaplains from negative repercussions for refusing to act against their consciences, as, for example, in being ordered to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony.

While there are arguments that can be mustered against prohibiting the use of military facilities for same-sex ceremonies, opposition to a measure that would ensure that chaplains couldn’t be ordered to officiate would imply a degree of compulsion that transforms the issue into a religious freedom fight rather than one of gay rights. If President Obama does veto the protections offered to chaplains by the House — as his Office of Management and Budget recommends — then it is possible to envision a future where Catholic, evangelical and Orthodox Jewish clergy will no longer be welcome as military chaplains.

At the American Conservative, Rod Dreher quotes American Jewish Congress chief counsel Marc Stern as saying that, “no one seriously believes that clergy will be forced, or even asked, to perform marriages that are anathema to them.” Yet the “sea change” that same-sex marriage will create in American law will bring with it consequences that advocates for this measure aren’t acknowledging. As Dreher writes:

The strategy of the pro-SSM side seems to be to deny that anything like this could possibly happen, and that people who say it could are being irresponsible scaremongers. Then when it actually happens, they’ll say oh, who cares; those bigots deserve what they get.

Dreher is right. The legal problem here is not so much the direct issue of redefining marriage from the traditional understanding of it being one man and one woman. Rather, it is the implications that stem from government sanction that will redefine some religious believers as being outside of not only mainstream opinion but literally outlaws and vulnerable to prosecution and/or defunding on the grounds of discrimination against gays.

The only way for advocates of same-sex marriage to avoid the stigmatizing of some faiths in this manner is to agree to legal stipulations that remove any possibility that religious institutions could be compelled to sanction behavior their religion regards as immoral. But if they refuse to do so, as the White House is indicating with its opposition to House protections for military chaplains, then gay marriage ceases to be a civil rights issue and becomes the focal point of a kulturkampf in which religious freedom is on the line. If that is the way things are heading, then military chaplains won’t be the last victims in the purge of believers.

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North Carolina No Longer a Swing State?

Just last month, Mitt Romney and President Obama were tied in Rasmussen’s North Carolina poll. Now, Romney has an 8-point lead, according to Rasmussen. That’s a fairly significant shift, and the most likely culprit is obviously Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage:

Mitt Romney has moved out to an eight-point lead over President Obama in North Carolina after the two men were virtually tied a month ago.

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in the Tar Heel State shows the putative Republican nominee earning 51% of the vote to Obama’s 43%. Two percent (2%) like some other candidate, and four percent (4%) are undecided. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

That’s a big change from last month when Romney posted a narrow 46% to 44% lead over the president in Rasmussen Reports’ first survey of the race in North Carolina.

Democrats have signaled North Carolina’s importance as a key swing state by deciding to hold their national convention in Charlotte this summer.

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Just last month, Mitt Romney and President Obama were tied in Rasmussen’s North Carolina poll. Now, Romney has an 8-point lead, according to Rasmussen. That’s a fairly significant shift, and the most likely culprit is obviously Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage:

Mitt Romney has moved out to an eight-point lead over President Obama in North Carolina after the two men were virtually tied a month ago.

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in the Tar Heel State shows the putative Republican nominee earning 51% of the vote to Obama’s 43%. Two percent (2%) like some other candidate, and four percent (4%) are undecided. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

That’s a big change from last month when Romney posted a narrow 46% to 44% lead over the president in Rasmussen Reports’ first survey of the race in North Carolina.

Democrats have signaled North Carolina’s importance as a key swing state by deciding to hold their national convention in Charlotte this summer.

The Democrats have put themselves in something of a bind by deciding to hold the convention in North Carolina and consequently emphasizing its importance as a swing state. Even though North Carolina went for Obama by a miniscule margin in 2008, some political observers had already put it in the Romney column months ago. Jeff Zeleny at the New York Times excluded North Carolina from its swing state list back in March (he characterized it as “leans Republican,” but also added that it was the “most competitive [of the lean-Republican states] and could become a tossup as the campaign develops.”).

Ed Morrissey looks at the internals, which show Romney picking up a remarkable portion of Democrats in the state. Pay close attention to the women’s vote as well:

Independents break narrowly for Romney, 49/45, but Romney also gets 18% of Democrats while losing only 6% of Republicans.  That 18% of Democrats looks awfully close to the 20.3% that voted “no preference” in last week’s primary rather than cast a vote for Obama, too, for a little independent corroboration of that number.

Romney leads among men 50/44, but does even better among women, 53/41.  That will send a shiver up spines at Team Obama.  Rasmussen uses three age demos, and Obama wins the youngest, but only 50/39, another red flag. Romney wins wide majorities in the other two, including a whopping 68/30 split among seniors.

Jonathan wrote yesterday on the CBS News/New York Times poll, which showed Romney leading with women nationally. Like Obama’s gay marriage endorsement, the Democratic Party’s “war on women” rhetoric may have worked to energize the base and donors, but it’s not helping with swing voters.

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Obama’s Mask Continues to Slip

I wanted to add a few thoughts to Jonathan’s post, with which I entirely concur.

The CBS News/New York Times poll, if only because of the source, must be creating panic at Obama re-election headquarters. So afraid of the results are Team Obama that campaign officials are actually attacking the poll — whose sample of registered voters is weighted in favor of Democrats (36 percent Democrats, 30 percent Republicans, and 34 percent independents) – as “significantly biased” in favor of Republicans. Of course it is. And Republicans are the ones who are supposed to be members of a “faith-based community” instead of the “reality-based” one.

As bad as the results are — showing support for Romney among women to be higher than support for Obama among women — my hunch is that what’s really driving the president crazy is that 67 percent of Americans think Obama’s stand on same-sex marriage was done mostly for political reasons rather than principled ones.

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I wanted to add a few thoughts to Jonathan’s post, with which I entirely concur.

The CBS News/New York Times poll, if only because of the source, must be creating panic at Obama re-election headquarters. So afraid of the results are Team Obama that campaign officials are actually attacking the poll — whose sample of registered voters is weighted in favor of Democrats (36 percent Democrats, 30 percent Republicans, and 34 percent independents) – as “significantly biased” in favor of Republicans. Of course it is. And Republicans are the ones who are supposed to be members of a “faith-based community” instead of the “reality-based” one.

As bad as the results are — showing support for Romney among women to be higher than support for Obama among women — my hunch is that what’s really driving the president crazy is that 67 percent of Americans think Obama’s stand on same-sex marriage was done mostly for political reasons rather than principled ones.

President Obama, after all, has presented himself to us – and seems to fancy himself to be – a man of rare political integrity and courage. The narrative they would have us believe is that Obama is an individual driven by the highest and purist motivations. He doesn’t simply want our support; he wants our reverence, our respect, and our awe. It helps explain the cult-like nature of the 2008 campaign.

So for Obama to be seen as just another scheming politician must really grate at him.

The truth, of course, is Obama is just that. Even for a politician, his stands on same-sex marriage – he was for it, then against it, then neutral on it, before he once again came out in favor of it – have been transparently cynical. And for Vice President Biden of all people to receive credit for forcing Obama to embrace same-sex marriage has, as we know, enraged Obama’s top aides.

Obama’s mask continues to slip. He is nothing like the image he created (post-ideological, non-partisan, high-minded, inspirational, unifying). He is, it turns out, a very liberal, rather ruthless, and deeply cynical politician. The fact that he is these things doesn’t bother him in the least. But the fact that more and more Americans are aware he’s these things bothers him quite a lot.

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War on Women Backfiring on Obama

The New York Times believes the most interesting data coming out of the latest CBS News/New York Times poll is that the vast majority of Americans think President Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage last week was a cynical ploy to gain a political advantage. That’s the lede in their story about the poll. Considering that the mainstream media — including the Times — gave the statement laudatory coverage, it is surprising to learn that 67 percent of Americans think he did it “mostly for political reasons” rather than believing his story about him evolving and doing what was right. But there’s far worse news for the president in this survey than just the fact that after a few years in office two thirds of the electorate see through him like a sheet glass window. The really bad news is that his core election strategy of seeking to portray the Republicans and Mitt Romney as the enemies of women is not only failing to give him an advantage; it’s backfiring.

The poll shows Romney winning a head-to-head match up with the president by a margin of 46-43 percent. That is interesting, as it’s the first time since early January that Romney is beating Obama in this poll. But of even greater significance is that Romney leads the president among women by 46-44 percent. Only a month ago, Obama had a 49-43 percent edge among women. That this result would come after a month in which the Democrats have pounded Romney and the GOP and sought to portray them as waging a Republican war on women is astonishing. The war theme is apparently not convincing wavering females that a President Romney would harm them. Indeed, it may be having the opposite effect as — just as is the case with the gay marriage issue — many women seem to understand that the war tactic is a dishonest attempt to divert their attention from the more pressing issues relating to the economy.

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The New York Times believes the most interesting data coming out of the latest CBS News/New York Times poll is that the vast majority of Americans think President Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage last week was a cynical ploy to gain a political advantage. That’s the lede in their story about the poll. Considering that the mainstream media — including the Times — gave the statement laudatory coverage, it is surprising to learn that 67 percent of Americans think he did it “mostly for political reasons” rather than believing his story about him evolving and doing what was right. But there’s far worse news for the president in this survey than just the fact that after a few years in office two thirds of the electorate see through him like a sheet glass window. The really bad news is that his core election strategy of seeking to portray the Republicans and Mitt Romney as the enemies of women is not only failing to give him an advantage; it’s backfiring.

The poll shows Romney winning a head-to-head match up with the president by a margin of 46-43 percent. That is interesting, as it’s the first time since early January that Romney is beating Obama in this poll. But of even greater significance is that Romney leads the president among women by 46-44 percent. Only a month ago, Obama had a 49-43 percent edge among women. That this result would come after a month in which the Democrats have pounded Romney and the GOP and sought to portray them as waging a Republican war on women is astonishing. The war theme is apparently not convincing wavering females that a President Romney would harm them. Indeed, it may be having the opposite effect as — just as is the case with the gay marriage issue — many women seem to understand that the war tactic is a dishonest attempt to divert their attention from the more pressing issues relating to the economy.

Like last week’s Gallup poll, the CBS/Times survey also shows that the gay marriage decision is likely to cost the president some support. More voters say they are less likely to vote for the president as a result of his statement than those who say they are more likely to back him by a 22 to 14 percent margin.

Not all the results in the CBS/Times poll were unfavorable to the president. His job approval figure of 50 percent was the highest in two years other than the month Osama bin Laden was killed. And there is more optimism about the economy, with 36 percent saying they think it is getting better, a number that is also the highest in two years.

And yet despite the sense that the economy is not as bad as it has been, Obama is still losing to Romney and even losing among women, a group that has skewed heavily to the Democrats in the past two decades. What can account for this declining gender gap after a period when the president and his campaign have sought to emphasize the difference between the two parties on what they think are women’s issues?

The answer isn’t all that complicated. Though some liberals may be convinced there is a GOP war on women, most aren’t buying it any more than they believe the president’s flip-flop on gays was a principled stand. Whatever their positions on social issues, most women seem to believe that the economy and the well-being of their families is their primary concern and on that score, Obama has lost their confidence. And it’s not clear that it can be won back by ginning up fake controversies that are transparent attempts to demonize Obama’s opponents.

Even more to the point, after three and a half years in office, President Obama may have just worn out his welcome with many voters. Having made it to the White House as part of symbolic election in which all Americans could take pride in righting some great historic wrongs, there is no such rationale for his re-election. Tactics that seem to be merely a way to trick the voters into thinking ill of the GOP are falling flat. The poll may be a wake up call to the Democrats to drop their phony war on women and start concentrating on the bread and butter issue of the economy, which 62 percent of those surveyed say is the most important in the election (the second most is the federal deficit at only 11 percent) where Romney seems to have a strong advantage.

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Franklin Graham’s Selective Outrage

In response to President Obama’s embrace of same-sex marriage, the Reverend Franklin Graham put out a statement that said this:

On Tuesday, my state of North Carolina became the 31st state to approve a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between a man and a woman. While the move to pass amendments defining marriage is relatively new, the definition of marriage is 8,000 years old and was defined not by man, but by God Himself. In changing his position from that of senator/candidate Obama, President Obama has, in my view, shaken his fist at the same God who created and defined marriage. It grieves me that our president would now affirm same-sex marriage, though I believe it grieves God even more. The institution of marriage should not be defined by presidents or polls, governors or the media. The definition was set long ago and changing legislation or policy will never change God’s definition. This is a sad day for America. May God help us.

About this statement, I have several thoughts, the first of which is that the definition of marriage has changed even within the Bible during those 8,000 years. For example, among the wealthy in ancient Israel, polygamy was a commonly accepted practice. Sarah gave her handmaiden Hagar to Abraham. Jacob married two sisters (Rachel and Leah). Esau had three wives. And marriages were often arranged. So even the Bible’s definition of marriage hasn’t been quite as static as Graham insists.

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In response to President Obama’s embrace of same-sex marriage, the Reverend Franklin Graham put out a statement that said this:

On Tuesday, my state of North Carolina became the 31st state to approve a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between a man and a woman. While the move to pass amendments defining marriage is relatively new, the definition of marriage is 8,000 years old and was defined not by man, but by God Himself. In changing his position from that of senator/candidate Obama, President Obama has, in my view, shaken his fist at the same God who created and defined marriage. It grieves me that our president would now affirm same-sex marriage, though I believe it grieves God even more. The institution of marriage should not be defined by presidents or polls, governors or the media. The definition was set long ago and changing legislation or policy will never change God’s definition. This is a sad day for America. May God help us.

About this statement, I have several thoughts, the first of which is that the definition of marriage has changed even within the Bible during those 8,000 years. For example, among the wealthy in ancient Israel, polygamy was a commonly accepted practice. Sarah gave her handmaiden Hagar to Abraham. Jacob married two sisters (Rachel and Leah). Esau had three wives. And marriages were often arranged. So even the Bible’s definition of marriage hasn’t been quite as static as Graham insists.

Second, does Graham believe that then-Governor Ronald Reagan “shook his fist at the same God who created and defined marriage” when Reagan embraced the first no-fault divorce law in the nation? (Reagan also signed legislation liberalizing abortion laws when he was governor of California.) Nothing has done more to damage the institution of marriage than the “divorce revolution” that began in the late 1960s. In addition, and of particular relevance to Graham, Jesus was far more critical of divorce than he was of homosexuality (of which Jesus said nothing).

My point isn’t that there’s no Scriptural guidance on matters of sexual relations. Instead, it’s the selective nature of the outrage. If one were to list the catalogue of things that grieve the God of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, it would be long – and near the top of the list would be indifference to the poor, pride, self-righteousness, anger, gossip, and hypocrisy. I image the people drafting press releases at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association will be kept quite busy speaking out against these things.

I wonder if Franklin Graham realizes (as his father eventually did) that his forays into politics are beginning to undermine his ministry (this is a subject I’ve written about before. It appears that Graham is a fiercely conservative person whose politics is to some degree sculpturing his religious/political priorities. And Graham’s words and statements, at least in the political arena, are often censorious and lack a spirit of grace and reconciliation. It is one thing to state, in an intelligent and measured way, one’s objection to same-sex marriage. It is quite another for the president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association to say the president, in expressing his personal support for same-sex marriage, is “shaking his fist at God.” I say that as someone who shares Graham’s religious faith and probably agrees with him on most political issues. Yet his public pronouncements are at times cringe-inducing, his explanations shallow, his tone belligerent.

There is such a thing as being a winsome and effective witness to one’s faith. C.S. Lewis possessed those qualities. I wish Franklin Graham did.

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Newsweek’s “First Gay President” Cover

You thought Tina Brown was really going to bring the insanity to this week’s Newsweek cover, especially after she was one-upped by Time’s mind-scarring “Are you Mom Enough?” photo. But actually, the cover is relatively tame. The over-the-top Obama worship at these weeklies has lost its shock value, and the “First Gay President” line was a pundit trope as soon as Obama wrapped up his ABC interview last week. Politico’s Dylan Byers has the summary of Andrew Sullivan’s cover story:

It’s easy to write off President Obama’s announcement of his support for gay marriage as a political ploy during an election year. But don’t believe the cynics. Andrew Sullivan argues that this announcement has been in the making for years. “When you step back a little and assess the record of Obama on gay rights, you see, in fact, that this was not an aberration. It was an inevitable culmination of three years of work.” And President Obama has much in common with the gay community. “He had to discover his black identity and then reconcile it with his white family, just as gays discover their homosexual identity and then have to reconcile it with their heterosexual family,” Sullivan writes.

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You thought Tina Brown was really going to bring the insanity to this week’s Newsweek cover, especially after she was one-upped by Time’s mind-scarring “Are you Mom Enough?” photo. But actually, the cover is relatively tame. The over-the-top Obama worship at these weeklies has lost its shock value, and the “First Gay President” line was a pundit trope as soon as Obama wrapped up his ABC interview last week. Politico’s Dylan Byers has the summary of Andrew Sullivan’s cover story:

It’s easy to write off President Obama’s announcement of his support for gay marriage as a political ploy during an election year. But don’t believe the cynics. Andrew Sullivan argues that this announcement has been in the making for years. “When you step back a little and assess the record of Obama on gay rights, you see, in fact, that this was not an aberration. It was an inevitable culmination of three years of work.” And President Obama has much in common with the gay community. “He had to discover his black identity and then reconcile it with his white family, just as gays discover their homosexual identity and then have to reconcile it with their heterosexual family,” Sullivan writes.

Obviously, this story was supposed to be a boost for Obama, but conservatives are already pointing out that the cover is a gift for Mitt Romney. Yes, the regular readership of Newsweek (and Andrew Sullivan) loves this sort of  Obama fawning. But they’re not the only people who are going to see this, and they’re already voting for him anyway. This cover is going to be on newsstands. It’s going to be in the checkout line at the grocery store. It’s going to be on the news rack at highway gas stations across the Midwest and the south. And it’s going to be viewed very differently in those areas of the country than it will be in the Northeast and West Coast.

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Obama Solidifies the GOP Base for Romney

The rationale behind President Obama’s decision to flip-flop on gay marriage and come out in favor of the idea isn’t any mystery. Democratic strategists rightly believe that any issue – no matter how divisive — that diverts attention from a failing economy is good for the president’s re-election campaign. That is why most Republicans have reacted to the matter with an impatient desire to get people talking about discouraging employment and growth figures. But that doesn’t mean the GOP didn’t reap an important dividend from last week’s big story.

The mainstream media has lionized the president for his stand, and most Americans may be either pleased or at least unopposed to gay marriage. But by choosing to embark on this initiative, President Obama has done his opponent in the November election a big favor. One of Mitt Romney’s biggest problems was the clear lack of enthusiasm for his candidacy on the part of his party’s base. But the endorsement of gay marriage is exactly what the Republican standard bearer needed to mobilize an army of evangelicals who were looking for a reason to get excited about an election in which they weren’t very happy about their choices. As the warm reception that Romney got at Liberty University this past weekend shows, he needn’t worry about his centrist image depressing the turnout figures among this key sector of Republican voters.

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The rationale behind President Obama’s decision to flip-flop on gay marriage and come out in favor of the idea isn’t any mystery. Democratic strategists rightly believe that any issue – no matter how divisive — that diverts attention from a failing economy is good for the president’s re-election campaign. That is why most Republicans have reacted to the matter with an impatient desire to get people talking about discouraging employment and growth figures. But that doesn’t mean the GOP didn’t reap an important dividend from last week’s big story.

The mainstream media has lionized the president for his stand, and most Americans may be either pleased or at least unopposed to gay marriage. But by choosing to embark on this initiative, President Obama has done his opponent in the November election a big favor. One of Mitt Romney’s biggest problems was the clear lack of enthusiasm for his candidacy on the part of his party’s base. But the endorsement of gay marriage is exactly what the Republican standard bearer needed to mobilize an army of evangelicals who were looking for a reason to get excited about an election in which they weren’t very happy about their choices. As the warm reception that Romney got at Liberty University this past weekend shows, he needn’t worry about his centrist image depressing the turnout figures among this key sector of Republican voters.

Throughout the campaign, the conventional wisdom has been that like 2008 GOP nominee John McCain, Romney would have trouble getting conservatives to care enough about his candidacy to work hard for his election. Moreover, even after he wrapped up the nomination, the fear has been that he would be caught between the twin perils of having to either continue to pander to evangelicals in the general election or losing them by shifting back to the center for the general election.

But Obama solved that problem for Romney with a single stroke that reminded Christian conservatives why they have no alternative but to turn out in November. When weighed against this blow to their values, factors such as Romney’s history of changed positions on abortion, his lack of fluency with the idiom of social conservative rhetoric and the unfortunate hesitancy on the part of some evangelicals to back a Mormon count for nothing.

After the administration’s assault on the Catholic Church in which the president’s signature health care program was used to force it to pay for practices it preaches against, there is a heightened awareness that religious freedom is going to be an issue in the election. And though, as the New York Times reports, the president has sought in the days after his decision to allay the fears of many pastors that his gay marriage stand will lead to government punishment of those faiths that don’t go along with his view, there is little doubt this is an unstated threat that scares many religious Americans. The example of Catholic and Orthodox Jewish institutions being run out of the adoption field in some states because of their views on gays is instructive.

President Obama needn’t fear African-American disaffection because of this issue even though many share the social conservative views of their white evangelical counterparts. In spite of their differences with this president on this point, black churches will continue to be rallying points for the president’s re-election.

But by pinning hopes on a belief that pushing liberal stands on social issues is the key to re-election, Obama has relieved Romney of the burden of having to spend any of the next six months worrying about whether evangelicals will turn out for him.

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Could Gay Marriage Mean No Second Term?

President Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage this past week brought with it a variety of benefits to his re-election effort. It energized his base and may well be a spur to more fundraising success, especially in Hollywood. Just as important, it engendered a chorus of unadulterated praise from the mainstream media that fits in well with the attempt to recapture the luster of his “hope and change” campaign in 2008 that hinged on the historic nature of his candidacy. The only question was whether it would cost him more votes from those who disagree than it would cause pro-gay rights voters to become supporters.

On the surface, a new Gallup poll conducted in the aftermath of the announcement seems to reassure the president’s camp that there was no danger of it harming his chances. The survey reports a clear majority of Americans — 51-45 percent — agree with him. Even more reassuring is that the decision won’t affect the votes of the vast majority, as 60 percent say it will make no difference and 13 percent assert it will make them more likely to vote for his re-election. Only 26 percent claim this will make them less likely to vote for him. But within these figures is still some very bad news for the president. The numbers show far more votes will be lost as a result of his stand than gained, especially in the center where the election will probably be decided.

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President Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage this past week brought with it a variety of benefits to his re-election effort. It energized his base and may well be a spur to more fundraising success, especially in Hollywood. Just as important, it engendered a chorus of unadulterated praise from the mainstream media that fits in well with the attempt to recapture the luster of his “hope and change” campaign in 2008 that hinged on the historic nature of his candidacy. The only question was whether it would cost him more votes from those who disagree than it would cause pro-gay rights voters to become supporters.

On the surface, a new Gallup poll conducted in the aftermath of the announcement seems to reassure the president’s camp that there was no danger of it harming his chances. The survey reports a clear majority of Americans — 51-45 percent — agree with him. Even more reassuring is that the decision won’t affect the votes of the vast majority, as 60 percent say it will make no difference and 13 percent assert it will make them more likely to vote for his re-election. Only 26 percent claim this will make them less likely to vote for him. But within these figures is still some very bad news for the president. The numbers show far more votes will be lost as a result of his stand than gained, especially in the center where the election will probably be decided.

Though the headline may say most votes won’t be affected by gay marriage, one needn’t go too deep into the results to figure out that this means  twice as many voters could be lost to Obama on this issue than he would win. Even more depressing for Democrats is that independents are the most affected by the issue, with 23 percent registering less interest in voting for the president and only 11 percent with more support.

As Gallup’s own analysis concludes:

Those figures suggest Obama’s gay marriage position is likely to cost him more independent and Democratic votes than he would gain in independent and Republican votes, clearly indicating that his new position is more of a net minus than a net plus for him.

There is little doubt that Obama’s flip-flop on gay marriage (he supported it as an Illinois state senator, prudently opposed it when running for the U.S. Senate and for the presidency but now endorses it) is because he believes it is vital to energize the Democrats’ base. Neither Obama nor Romney can hope to win without the enthusiasm of their party’s core, but in an election that tracking polls tell us is a virtual dead heat, any issue that has the potential to lose twice as many vital independents as it can win is a possible death blow.

As the results in the North Carolina referendum this week showed, as much as there has been a sea change in American culture on gays, there is still stiff resistance to tinkering with the traditional definition of marriage. That is especially true in swing states that Obama won in 2008 such as North Carolina, Virginia and Ohio but which are up for grabs this year.

Thus, while the president is reaping the hosannas of the mainstream liberal media and possibly raking in even more Hollywood donations, his “evolution” on the issue may wind up costing him states he can’t afford to lose in November.

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Obama’s Political Distractions May Backfire

As I’ve been writing this, the link to today’s Rasmussen poll showing Mitt Romney with a growing lead on Obama has gone dead and then come back up (possibly because it’s headlining Drudge), but here’s the relevant part of the findings from HotAir’s Ed Morrissey:

The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Friday shows Mitt Romney earning 50% of the vote and President Obama attracting 43% support. Four percent (4%) would vote for a third party candidate, while another three percent (3%) are undecided.

This is the first time Romney has reached the 50% level of support and is his largest lead ever over the president. It comes a week after a disappointing jobs report that raised new questions about the state of the economy.

This is a daily tracking poll, and keep in mind that those tend to be more prone to static. But this is still Romney’s biggest lead on Obama yet, and it does follow a trend. Yesterday’s Rasmussen daily tracker had Romney leading Obama by 4 percent. The two days before that, Romney was up by 5 percent. He was leading by 2 percent on May 7th, one percent on May 6th, and trailed Obama by one point on May 5th. So clearly there has been consistent upward movement for Romney.

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As I’ve been writing this, the link to today’s Rasmussen poll showing Mitt Romney with a growing lead on Obama has gone dead and then come back up (possibly because it’s headlining Drudge), but here’s the relevant part of the findings from HotAir’s Ed Morrissey:

The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Friday shows Mitt Romney earning 50% of the vote and President Obama attracting 43% support. Four percent (4%) would vote for a third party candidate, while another three percent (3%) are undecided.

This is the first time Romney has reached the 50% level of support and is his largest lead ever over the president. It comes a week after a disappointing jobs report that raised new questions about the state of the economy.

This is a daily tracking poll, and keep in mind that those tend to be more prone to static. But this is still Romney’s biggest lead on Obama yet, and it does follow a trend. Yesterday’s Rasmussen daily tracker had Romney leading Obama by 4 percent. The two days before that, Romney was up by 5 percent. He was leading by 2 percent on May 7th, one percent on May 6th, and trailed Obama by one point on May 5th. So clearly there has been consistent upward movement for Romney.

But what does it mean? It may be too early to tie it to the gay marriage debate, and the WaPo hit on Romney’s high school pranks probably hasn’t had enough time to seep into the public consciousness yet. So it’s too soon to say that attack has been a failure.

Based on Rasmussen’s report, it could be tied to economic factors. Likely voters are giving Romney much higher marks on the economy than Obama:

Thirty-seven percent (37%) give the president good or excellent marks for his handling of the economy.  Forty-eight percent (48%) say he’s doing a poor job. Consumer confidence has slipped four points since last week’s government report on job creation and unemployment. The number who believe their personal finances are getting better slipped from 30% a week ago to 28% today. The number who fear their finances are getting worse increased from 43% before the jobs report to 47% today.

This fits with Gallup’s poll numbers today, which also show Romney with an edge over Obama on economic issues, despite the fact that this subject hasn’t really dominated the political news cycle later. Could it be that the Obama campaign’s attempt to divert the race from economic news to social and cultural issues is actually hurting him with voters? The Obama campaign has spent the past few weeks talking about everything from Romney’s dog to Osama bin Laden to gay marriage, while Romney has remained fairly focused on the economy. Maybe voters view distractions as a lack of seriousness on Obama’s part.

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When a Flip-Flop Becomes an “Evolution”

Question: When does a flip flop become an evolution? Answer: When the flip-flop leads to a liberal outcome.

I have in mind the omnipresent use by the media of President Obama’s “evolution” on gay marriage. In fact, this evolution was a rather jagged one.

As it’s been pointed out on this web site before, in 1996, Obama said he supported gay marriage. Then, in 2004, he said he opposed gay marriage. He reiterated that stand in 2008. Then, after Obama was elected president, he was neutral on the subject. And now that he’s (re)-embraced his position from more than 15 years ago, the press – using precisely the word Obama does to describe his shifting stance – says the president has “evolved.” As in “became more enlightened.”

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Question: When does a flip flop become an evolution? Answer: When the flip-flop leads to a liberal outcome.

I have in mind the omnipresent use by the media of President Obama’s “evolution” on gay marriage. In fact, this evolution was a rather jagged one.

As it’s been pointed out on this web site before, in 1996, Obama said he supported gay marriage. Then, in 2004, he said he opposed gay marriage. He reiterated that stand in 2008. Then, after Obama was elected president, he was neutral on the subject. And now that he’s (re)-embraced his position from more than 15 years ago, the press – using precisely the word Obama does to describe his shifting stance – says the president has “evolved.” As in “became more enlightened.”

To take the important point made by Jonathan on Mitt Romney and abortion in a slightly different direction, here’s a thought experiment. Assume that a decade-and-a-half ago Romney opposed same sex marriage. Then, running for office in Massachusetts, he embraced same-sex marriage. But now, running for president, he announced he once again opposes gay marriage. Do you think the press would describe his position as having “evolved”? Or would the word “benighted” more accurately reflect the tone and spirit of the media’s coverage of Romney?

Just wondering.

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Will Gay Marriage Endorsement Help Obama in Hollywood?

Michael Hastings reports on President Obama’s waning support in Tinseltown:

Over the past week, I’d spoken to more than a dozen Hollywood players, and all had a litany of criticisms. “I’ll write the check,” one top producer, whose films have made over a billion at the box office, told me. “But I’m not going to bother voting for him.” Another studio exec—in a land where the hard driven deal is cultural requirement —wondered if the president’s penchant for compromise meant he had, in the parlance of our times, “no balls.”

A number of other actors and producers lamented how they’d gone so far as to donate and volunteer for Obama in 2008—and now, disgusted, they were planning on doing neither this time around. They had bought what Obama was selling for four years—about the wars, about Gitmo, about changing things in Washington, about the hope and the change—and Obama had let them down. Even Matt Damon—one of the president’s most stalwart celebrity supporters—famously said last year he was disappointed.

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Michael Hastings reports on President Obama’s waning support in Tinseltown:

Over the past week, I’d spoken to more than a dozen Hollywood players, and all had a litany of criticisms. “I’ll write the check,” one top producer, whose films have made over a billion at the box office, told me. “But I’m not going to bother voting for him.” Another studio exec—in a land where the hard driven deal is cultural requirement —wondered if the president’s penchant for compromise meant he had, in the parlance of our times, “no balls.”

A number of other actors and producers lamented how they’d gone so far as to donate and volunteer for Obama in 2008—and now, disgusted, they were planning on doing neither this time around. They had bought what Obama was selling for four years—about the wars, about Gitmo, about changing things in Washington, about the hope and the change—and Obama had let them down. Even Matt Damon—one of the president’s most stalwart celebrity supporters—famously said last year he was disappointed.

Obviously, the Obama campaign is hoping the early gay marriage endorsement will help energize big Democratic donors who were still sitting on the sidelines, particularly Hollywood liberals. And the timing couldn’t be better. Obama has a much-publicized fundraiser tonight at George Clooney’s house, and early next week he attends a fundraiser with Ricky Martin that’s reportedly aimed at donors in the gay community.

The question is, will his announcement be enough to coax out the checkbooks? Obama’s gay marriage endorsement has no real practical effect, and his policies haven’t changed. He still maintains it’s a state-by-state issue. And as others have noted, he only announced his position publicly after days of political pressure. Fortunately for Obama, Hollywood doesn’t tend to be well-informed on these issues. And that will definitely work to his advantage as he tries to woo back these donors.

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One Man’s Role in Gay Rights Shift

Wherever one stands on the issue of same-sex marriage, having the president of the United States endorse the concept is a major achievement for the gay rights movement. And it didn’t happen by accident.

The shift in the public’s attitudes toward gay marriage, and the subsequent alteration of the political landscape, is arguably the most significant we’ve seen in the last quarter-century. And among the people who are most responsible for this moment is Jonathan Rauch, a former columnist for National Journal and a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution.

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Wherever one stands on the issue of same-sex marriage, having the president of the United States endorse the concept is a major achievement for the gay rights movement. And it didn’t happen by accident.

The shift in the public’s attitudes toward gay marriage, and the subsequent alteration of the political landscape, is arguably the most significant we’ve seen in the last quarter-century. And among the people who are most responsible for this moment is Jonathan Rauch, a former columnist for National Journal and a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution.

I first met Jonathan in 1994, at a lunch with William Bennett. We wanted to meet Rauch because of his book Demosclerosis: The Silent Killer of American Government. The three of us talked about that book – but Rauch also made the case for why homosexuality is no threat to family or conservatism. A short time later he published a Wall Street Journal op-ed on that matter – and he later wrote articles (see here), books (see here), and op-eds (see here and here) making the case for same-sex marriage.

There are three elements to Rauch’s work worth highlighting. The first is the ingenuity of the argument. His great insight, which he shared with Andrew Sullivan (another extremely significant figure in the fight for gay marriage), was to recast the goals of the gay rights movement away from sexual libertinism toward conservatism, from radicalism toward traditionalism. Same-sex marriage, this argument goes, would bond gays into committed, stable relationships and promote monogamy. The gay rights agenda went from being an assault on the institution to an effort to become part of it.

The second thing to note in Rauch’s work is the rigor of his arguments. Anyone who has read Rauch knows he takes the case against same-sex marriage and examines the premises and empirical statements with tremendous care. His goal is to use reason to show why gay marriage will preserve and protect society’s most essential institution. Beyond that, though, Rauch habitually describes the views of those with whom he disagrees in honest, fair-minded terms.

The third thing about Rauch is his tone, which is consistently measured, civil, and respectful. In a debate in which ugly things have been said on all sides, Rauch has never in my experience attacked the motivations of his opponents. He gives the benefit of the doubt even to his critics. That is not only an impressive human quality; it’s also extremely helpful when you start out with a position in which you need to persuade large number of people who disagree with you.

I should add that I’m not in full agreement with Jonathan on gay marriage, even though his arguments have shifted my thinking in important respects. And he and I had our policy differences during the Bush years. But every time we discussed them, either in person or via e-mail, I was struck by his integrity and open-mindedness. That I’ve come to admire him is no secret. Which is why, on a day that was extremely meaningful to gay Americans, I couldn’t help but think about Rauch’s crucial role in all that has unfolded in the last few years.

 

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Who’s the Phony? Romney or Obama?

As Pete noted yesterday, the talk about the evolution of President Obama’s stand on gay marriage tends to gloss over the fact that rather than a straight path to enlightenment, it has been a typical cynical politician’s approach to controversy. Since he supported it while running for the State Senate, opposed it while running for the Senate in 2004 and for the presidency in 2008 and now supports it again in 2012, we can see that his position was not principled but the product of careful analysis about the needs of the voters he was facing in each case. This is hardly shocking, but I suspect the president won’t be branded as a flip-flopper by his adoring fans in the mainstream press.

That’s significant not so much because it reveals the media’s bias on social issues but because it shows the different standard to which Mitt Romney has been subjected for his stands on social issues by some of the same outlets that are celebrating Obama’s statement today. Though Democratic strategists are currently attempting to paint Romney as a right-wing extremist, for most of the last year they and their allies in the press regularly lambasted Romney for being a serial flip-flopper. But in the wake of Obama’s politically motivated zigzag path to support for gay marriage, isn’t it time to acknowledge there is no difference between that and Romney’s equally tortured route to opposition to abortion?

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As Pete noted yesterday, the talk about the evolution of President Obama’s stand on gay marriage tends to gloss over the fact that rather than a straight path to enlightenment, it has been a typical cynical politician’s approach to controversy. Since he supported it while running for the State Senate, opposed it while running for the Senate in 2004 and for the presidency in 2008 and now supports it again in 2012, we can see that his position was not principled but the product of careful analysis about the needs of the voters he was facing in each case. This is hardly shocking, but I suspect the president won’t be branded as a flip-flopper by his adoring fans in the mainstream press.

That’s significant not so much because it reveals the media’s bias on social issues but because it shows the different standard to which Mitt Romney has been subjected for his stands on social issues by some of the same outlets that are celebrating Obama’s statement today. Though Democratic strategists are currently attempting to paint Romney as a right-wing extremist, for most of the last year they and their allies in the press regularly lambasted Romney for being a serial flip-flopper. But in the wake of Obama’s politically motivated zigzag path to support for gay marriage, isn’t it time to acknowledge there is no difference between that and Romney’s equally tortured route to opposition to abortion?

Social conservatives roasted the GOP standard bearer in the past year for having supported abortion rights while running for office in Massachusetts in 1994 and 2002. Liberal kibitzers were happy to chime in when right-wingers doubted the sincerity of Romney’s conversion to a right-to-life position just before he began preparing to run for president. Though the Republican candidate claims he had a genuine change of heart, both liberals and conservatives are to be forgiven if they think it had more to do with the fact that a supporter of abortion had no chance of winning a national Republican race while the opposite was true in Massachusetts.

But the same calculations apply to Obama’s stands on same-sex marriage. He supported it while running for office in Chicago but said the opposite when he was looking to win a statewide race in Illinois and the presidency at a time when such a stand would have cost him votes. Now that his pollsters — and Hollywood contributors — tell him that changing his tune will be popular, he’s flipped again. Which makes him every bit the phony that Romney’s detractors say he is. The only difference is that the liberal press will always treat a candidate who moves to their position on an issue as having evolved but speak of one who moved away from their beliefs as a cynical flip-flopper.

To be fair to Romney, it should be noted that on the one issue which might have cost him the Republican presidential nomination, he refused to change his stand when doing so would have helped his candidacy. Romney’s Massachusetts health care bill was his greatest electoral liability heading into the GOP primaries. It was rightly perceived as resembling if not inspiring ObamaCare. Republican rivals said that Romney’s support of government health care would undermine the party’s chance to use the issue against the president in 2012.

But rather than distance himself from his record, Romney doubled down on it repeatedly, insisting that while he opposed Obama’s bill, the Massachusetts legislation was not a mistake. Doing so may have cost him some votes and may yet hurt him in the fall. But he did not waver.

Looked at in this light, it’s clear that though Romney’s record contains its share of flip-flops, he needn’t blush when compared to Obama. Neither can claim to be consistent on social issues. The only difference is that the media calls one a phony and gives the other accolades for similar behavior.

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