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Is Obama ready to support gay marriage?

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • LZ Granderson: Obama has the gay vote sewn up for 2012
  • He says most GOP presidential candidates are opposed to gay rights
  • Granderson asks if Obama's conscience would prompt him to back gay marriage
  • As a state Senate candidate in 1996, Obama supported same-sex marriage

Editor's note: LZ Granderson writes a weekly column for CNN.com. A senior writer and columnist for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com, he has contributed to ESPN's "Sports Center," "Outside the Lines" and "First Take." He is a 2010 nominee and the 2009 winner of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation award for online journalism and a 2010 and 2008 honoree of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association for column writing.

Grand Rapids, Michigan (CNN) -- After last week's GOP debate it would be safe to assume that President Obama pretty much has the 2012 gay vote all sewn up.

Not only has he done more for the gay community than any president in history, but some of his Republican challengers are threatening to undo all of the gay good he's already done if elected. Five of the seven GOP candidates said they would go so far as to support some form of anti-gay discrimination written directly into the Constitution, including leading candidate Mitt Romney.

Now how much of the anti-gay rhetoric was merely pandering to their base and how much of it was authentic likely varies from person to person. But one thing is clear for the proponents of gay rights, President Obama is the lesser of two evils.

So why is this week's speech at a fundraiser targeting the gay community such a big deal?

Watch LZ Granderson on CNN Newsroom

Because it's in Manhattan, which happens to be in the state of New York, which happens to be in the throes of a marriage equality debate, which happens to be the one area Obama remains right of center on.

If asked he would tell you that his opinion on the topic is "evolving."

If pushed he would tell you he believes marriage should be between one man and one woman.

That makes asking gay folks for campaign money ... tricky.

If marriage equality passes in New York, he's in the clear. All he has to do is show some clips from last week's debate, mention the Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal a few times and pass a bucket around.

But if it fails, oh boy.

Obama: 'Evolving' on same-sex marriage
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How can a speaker, even one as eloquent as President Obama, stand in front of a disappointed crowd and ask for financial support when, if pushed, he would reveal he is not fully going to be on their side.

At least publicly. I suspect the words of Illinois state Senate candidate Obama, the one who did not have a problem with marriage equality, are a better representation of his private thoughts. But this is politics, not confession.

So even though the country has become a lot more tolerant, any political adviser worth his weight in glitter will tell you that marriage equality is still a divisive enough issue that if Obama voices full support for gay marriage, it could cost him votes in swing states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Mexico.

When you consider the tenuous situation with the economy, it simply wouldn't be politically savvy for him to stick his neck out to appease a voter base that for all intents and purposes he already has.

I know it is a bit unsophisticated to vote for a president based solely on one issue but it's difficult to ignore the fact that that one issue impacts nearly every other aspect of a gay person's life -- from job and housing security to taxes. Just last year, the governor of Minnesota vetoed a bill that would have given gays and lesbians the right to decide what to do with their deceased partner's body. Imagine losing your spouse of 30 years in a car accident and then have the governor tell you that you can't make the funeral arrangements.

Who would do such a thing?

Tim Pawlenty, that's who.

Is that who gay people want to see in the White House?

I doubt it.

Which is why Obama doesn't have to come out and support gay marriage for political reasons.

But what about his conscience?

And how much longer is he willing to let his legacy reside on the wrong side of history with regards to this topic? Especially when you canvas the landscape and see some Republicans risking their political careers by straying away from the party line to follow their hearts?

"You get to the point where you evolve in your life where everything isn't black and white, good and bad, and you try to do the right thing," said New York GOP state Sen. Roy McDonald, who declared his support for the same-sex marriage bill. "You might not like that. You might be very cynical about that. Well, f--- it, I don't care what you think. I'm trying to do the right thing."

The right thing.

It's a phrase President Obama utters over and over again when talking about the direction of his policy with regards to controversial topics, such as health care reform and the handling of Libya. And yet, President Obama has yet to say the words that Illinois state Senate candidate Obama did back in the 1990s: "I favor legalizing same-sex marriages."

Supporting gay marriage isn't the politically savvy thing to do.

But is the right thing to do.

Because of Pawlenty, et al there is no real leverage the gay community can apply to get him to that point. That is why they'll have to, in the words of openly gay singer Ari Gold, "put your game face on, stay strong and sparkle," as they wait for Obama's conscience to meet his words--do the right thing. Win or lose, will Thursday be the day?

I guess we'll have to wait and see.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.

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