Where's the President?

By Dan Froomkin
12:14 PM ET, 05/ 7/2009

My Live Online discussion yesterday started just moments after the news broke that Maine had become the fifth state to legalize same-sex marriage.

It made me realize how odd it was for a major civil-rights movement to be making huge strides -- with no leadership at all from the president of the United States. Especially given his devotion to civil rights generally.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in today's New York Times about how Obama "is under pressure to engage on a variety of gay issues that are coming to the fore amid a dizzying pace of social, political, legal and legislative change.

"Two of Mr. Obama's potential Supreme Court nominees are openly gay... Same-sex marriage is advancing in states — the latest to allow it is Maine — and a new flare-up in the District of Columbia could ultimately put the controversy in the lap of the president.

"Mr. Obama's new global health initiative has infuriated activists who say he is not financing AIDS programs generously enough. And while the president has urged Congress to pass a hate crimes bill, a high priority for gay groups, he has delayed action on one of his key campaign promises, repealing the military's 'don't ask, don't tell' rule.

"Social issues like same-sex marriage bring together deeply held principles and flashpoint politics, and many gay activists, aware that Mr. Obama is also dealing with enormous challenges at home and overseas, have counseled patience.

"But some are unsettled by what they see as the president's cautious approach."

Karen DeYoung, in a Washington Post profile of national security adviser James L. Jones today, offers some insight into one of Obama's decisions to stall: "When Obama was under pressure to review the military's 'don't ask, don't tell' policy on gay service members, Jones said he went 'to see him personally on it' and advised him not to add another controversy to his already-full plate," DeYoung writes. "The president, Jones said, took his advice."

Press secretary Robert Gibbs couldn't have been more noncommittal at yesterday's press briefing:

Q. "Does the President or the White House have a reaction to the Governor of Maine signing a same-sex marriage bill?"

Gibbs: "No, I think the President's position on same-sex marriages has been talked about and discussed."

Q. "He opposes same-sex marriage."

Gibbs: "He supports civil unions."

Q. "Does that mean that he's going to say or do anything against what the citizens of Maine -- "

Gibbs: "Not that I'm aware of. I think the President believes this is an issue that's best addressed by the states."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company