Last week Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is the chair of this year’s Democratic National Party Convention, said that he favors a gay marriage legalization proposal on the party platform.
When asked by Politico if the national Democratic Party platform should have a marriage equality plank, Mayor Villaraigosa said: “I believe in family values, and I believe that we all ought to be able to have a family and marry if you want to. I don’t think the government should be in that business of denying people the fundamental right to marry.”
Having publicly made a mockery of his own marriage while in office by taking up with the former Univision news reporter Mirthala Salinas, Villaraigosa knows better than to get on a high horse about marriage as something only for straight couples. There are plenty of gay couples whose partnerships have outlasted Villaraigosa’s marriage.
Being a first cousin to a high profile gay politician, Speaker of the California Assembly John Perez, and representing a city with plenty of vocal gay advocates with the power to flex political muscle are two big factors influencing Villaraigosa’s position on the same sex marriage issue. Now, the same sex marriage plank issue is out in the public. And historically, Villaraigosa has supported gay and lesbian rights dating back to his days serving in the California State Assembly.
The gay community clearly has Villaraigosa’s back on this issue; now it’s just a matter of getting the President and the top brass in the Democratic Party to get over any fear or trepidation over what Villaraigosa said. Currently, President Obama has stated that his views on the marriage issue are “evolving” although he has supported gay rights during his presidency.
Public support for same sex marriage continues to increase. A Pew Research Center survey released last fall showed that 46% of Americans surveyed supported legalizing same sex marriage, while 44% were opposed. Furthermore, since the mid-1990s backing for gay marriage has been growing by a couple of percentage points per year. And among younger Americans in the age 18-30 bracket, 59% support legalization of same sex marriage. The President and top Democrats have an opportunity to get ahead of the public on this issue and to also solidify support amongst the LGBT community. It’s a powerful political group that happens to intersect other communities across the country.
There’s the concern that the President may not want to upset more socially conservative Democrats and Independents – it’s bad enough the Culture Wars are brewing back up. But when he has tried to appease this segment of voters, Obama alienates those who could be some of his most ardent supporters. Additionally, the larger issue that the November election will hinge on is the economy, and with economic indicators continuing to improve, the President can afford to show more leadership on the gay marriage issue.
While ultimately the delegates will shape the party platform, President Obama should not shy away from the gay marriage issue. Already governors and state houses are supporting the issue. In recent weeks, we have seen the governors of Maryland and Washington state signing bills legalizing same sex marriage. Additionally, the New Jersey legislature passed its own same sex marriage bill that was vetoed by Governor Christie despite a majority of New Jerseyans supporting gay marriage. The gay marriage issue is one where President Obama can assert his civil rights credentials without risking much support. It all depends on how much political risk he is assessing and how much he’s willing to take.