No, you can’t

Nobody had to tell me to go to the White House last night. Like many Washingtonians, around 11:30 pm, I just knew that’s where I needed to be, despite the chill and drizzle. Thousands showed up: a jubilant, if rowdy, group. Lots of chanting and car horn honking. You may have seen the videos or photos.

But I couldn’t be happy. Relieved that President Bush is on his way out and that there would be neither a President McCain or Vice President Palin to replace him. But no real joy. I must have looked a match to the chill and drizzle because I made the mistake of checking on the California Prop 8 outcome before leaving the house.

Now, I have supported President-elect Obama since the primaries. Bill Clinton was terrible on gay legislation — I couldn’t expect any better from his partner in politics — and the Republicans are beyond the pale. But the fact that Obama made a religious virtue of opposing same-sex marriage and promoted a second-class civil union meant that I could not celebrate him like so many others. Need anyone be reminded that his parents’ marriage was illegal in many states at the time of his birth?

So I made this bargain with myself: support him to the election, but be a careful critic on this and any other matter of policy that I think falls below his own values, or the welfare of the nation. (I think his strategy of never speaking constructively of the poor is another failure.)

I can’t do much about California, or the Mormons (save avoiding Utah) or the Knights of Columbus, but I can join in league with other Americans to put pressure on the President and the Congress. So I shall. If you’ll excuse the phrase, he gets no honeymoon from me.

Liberals need to press hard. The real work begins now.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. It’s incredibly frustrating, but it seems like it is probably going to be one step up and two steps back (California and Utah) for a while to come. :( If there is a silver lining, we got a lot by getting a Democratic president this time, and I do feel a great sense of relief that the pendulum may swing back after Bush leaves. I know you know all this and more, but at least Obama has indicated that he does want to see Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repealed; he supports adoption rights and believes that ENDA should be expanded to include gender identity and sexual orientation. He might not be ideal, but at least he won’t be leading the charge to ban equal marriage opportunities. I know that’s cold comfort.

    Frankly, I suspect he secretly supports gay marriage as well, but knew that openly doing so could prevent him from getting elected. As we saw yesterday, the specter of Karl Rove’s wedge issue continues to loom over the voting booth.

    Unfortunately, the man has other priorities at the moment. If he makes it to a second term and if the economy is in better shape, we could see some initiative in this area.

    It’s upsetting. It’s utterly exasperating. Even though I recognize the political expediency and pragmatism and I understand the calculated, measured positions, every minute that ticks by means that you and other people I love cannot get married, and it’s just plain unjust.I have had conversations that ended with me shouting to gradualists: “Eventually doesn’t do people I love like my own blood any good in their lifetime! They need change now: not five years from now, not five minutes from now, but right now!” It is, very simply, the civil rights struggle of our time, and why we can’t learn from the past and just skip to the inevitable end right now is beyond me.

    Being in water up to your waist is better than being in water up to your neck, but it doesn’t mean that you’ve stopped looking for dry land. So we won’t stop. We won’t give up. We’ll keep pressing, as you say. Even so, Obama is an improvement — the hemorrhaging ceases, and that, at least, is more than we’ve had. A slice of bread rather than a full seat at the table? Maybe, but at least we’re inside the house and not out in the cold, and for that, I’m willing to give him a chance and a little time.

  2. I remember the jubilation I felt after Clinton was first elected and felt my heart broken within the first 100 days of his administration as I felt used and betrayed with don’t ask don’t tell and then DOMA. So while I rejoice in the historic significance of an Obama Presidency; I too have a wait and see attitude towards Obama’s promises to bring America together again. I guess I have become cynical that any President is truly able to accomplish all that he (and someday in the future she) wants to accomplish. Time will tell what Obama will be able to do in the next two years with a Democrat controlled house and senate. The last two years of his first term could see that reversed. The next two years is really the timeline he has to prove himself or things will change again in 2010 and again in 2012.

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