On Wednesday President Obama remarked that he supports allowing same-sex couples to marry. That’s great, but it is just words. What’s more, the president doesn’t really have much to say on the issue anyway, since (a) marriage is a state-by-state thing, (b) in state votes, same-sex marriage keeps losing, (c) Obama isn’t a Supreme Court justice, nor does he even enjoy a working majority among them.
Words are fine, and can both inform us and lift us up, but they aren’t reliable. I find I learn a lot less from what people say than from what they do. Everyone wants to be the hero of their own story and so words are generally self-serving. There’s nothing unusual about that. That’s why I enjoy reading budgets more than I like going to press conferences. You learn more, and what you learn is more reliable.
This is never so true as when you’re learning something pleasant. The temptation is never to probe, but just to accept, good news. And of course this is exactly when it’s the most important to do exactly that. Self-deception is the most effective kind of deception, isn’t it?
That’s why it was a pleasure to stumble across a list like this, via Balloon Juice, that provides a list of the things that are within the President’s control on sexuality civil rights and that Obama has already acted on. It’s a fairly long list of hate crime legislation passed, military policies repealed, anti-discrimination clauses adopted, spousal benefits provided, visitation rights granted, family and medical leave act provisions extended, openly gay appointees named, and anti-DOMA arguments made. The content varies, but many represent actual achievements. Several of those undo damage done by previous Presidents who vocally supported equal rights, but gave us some pretty damaging policies anyway.
The conflict between those who want the prize now and those who are content to be on the right path will always be with us. Important changes take work, work takes time, and in the long run we’re all dead. These are the realities of political change. There is little reason not to harass those in office about important policies. The office holders who disagree with you need to hear that there are dissenters, and those who agree need your support, and often, a push. But on the issue of civil rights, I believe it’s important to see Obama’s statement about marriage equality not as a beginning, nor even as a bone tossed to an important constituency, but as item number 41 on the third list down. Call it putting your mouth where your money is.