Why Obama still says no to gay marriage

Earl Ofari Hutchinson | 7/5/2011, 2:59 p.m.

The warning signs that many blacks were susceptible to religious and conservative pitches to oppose gay marriage lit up in 1997. Then the late Green Bay Packers perennial all-pro defensive end Reggie White, an ordained fundamentalist minister, stirred a firestorm when he took a huge swipe at gay rights and gay marriage in a speech to the Wisconsin State Legislature.

White became the first celebrity black evangelical to say publicly what many black religious leaders said and believed privately about gay issues. Few blacks joined in the loud chorus that condemned his remarks.

A year before White’s outburst, a Pew Poll measured black attitudes toward gay marriage and found that blacks opposed it by an overwhelming margin. A CNN poll eight years later showed that anti-gay attitudes among blacks had softened at least publicly. But the line continued to be just as firmly drawn on same-sex marriage.

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in polls in 2009 and 2010 found that blacks opposed same-sex marriage by gaping margins over whites or Hispanics. The finding was even more striking in that Pew also found that for the first time in the decade and a half that it had been polling Americans on attitudes toward gay rights (and that includes gay marriage) less than half of Americans opposed same-sex marriage.

It’s wrong-headed and wildly inaccurate to think that President Obama opposes same-sex marriage out of narrow religious belief, conservative family upbringing or a racial herd mentality that is unyielding on the traditional defense of family values. But it’s just as wrongheaded to say that none of these things have weighed and do weigh in the president’s unwillingness to take the final step and say yes to gay marriage.

Time will tell when he will finally change, but that time hasn’t come yet and there are reasons why.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a nationally syndicated columnist and an editor at New America Media.