As I mentioned below, voters in the state of North Carolina are poised to approve a constitutional amendment today that would define marriage as a union between one woman and one man. As it turns out, it looks like this state's issue is having implications for federal officials, namely President Barack Obama.
Last week, the White House scheduled the president to speak in Asheville, NC about the economy. But about five hours after announcing Obama's visit, the White House called the whole thing off:
A controversial vote on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and civil unions is on today's ballot. Obama issued a statement against the amendment earlier this year -- but polls show it is likely to win by a solid margin.
The White House did not respond to questions about the scheduling snafu. The alert about the Obama visit came Wednesday last week and was changed by the end of the day. The White House's official week-ahead schedule released at the end of last week put the president in New York today, not Asheville.
Since Vice President Joe Biden brought the issue of gay marriage to the forefront, the White House likely assumed that a visit to North Carolina on the day of a gay marriage vote would only increase pressure from the media demanding to know where the president stands. In the meantime, Republicans are slamming the president for dodging the issue:
N.C. Republican Party spokesman Rob Lockwood later issued this statement, suggesting Obama was trying to distance himself from the amendment vote.
“President Obama wanted to distance himself from the marriage amendment so badly, that he cancelled his trip to North Carolina?" Lockwood said. "The same North Carolina that he has visited so many times in the past few months, and the same North Carolina where he put his convention. If liberals were looking for a leader on this issue, they clearly don’t have one in the White House."
Obama press secretary Jay Carney insists that the president's views on gay marriage are "evolving," but even Democrats are beginning to question his political character. “What I think you are seeing now is the extent to which the White House miscalculated that they can continue to give a non-answer on what is one of the major issues of our day,” said Richard Socarides, a former aide to President Bill Clinton and senior White House adviser on gay rights. “You can evolve for a time, but they have stretched this out 18 months now."
“The question is, is there a risk?” another Democratic strategist suggests. “It is not nationwide [polling] we are talking about. We are talking about Virginia, North Carolina and other swing states, and we are talking about, would Karl Rove and his team stoop to using horribly grotesque and hateful tactics … and would that peel off 10,000 votes?”
Obama is likely weighing the issue against two voting constituencies that were essential to his 2008 victory -- young voters and African-Americans. While young voters tend to support gay marriage as a civil rights issue, the African-American community tends to oppose it on religious grounds.
In the unlikely event today's constitutional amendment fails, gay marriage will still be illegal under a 1996 state law. If it passes, the amendment will be added to the state constitution, meaning a three-fifths majority voting bloc of state legislators would be needed to repeal it.