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Obama's dodge on gay marriage: I get it

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
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Obama's gay marriage dilemma
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • LZ Granderson says Obama didn't back same-sex marriage at an LGBT fundraiser Thursday
  • He says he gets why: timing and politics. Obama asked audience for support anyway
  • He says if Obama had offered that support, it would have been used against him in 2012
  • Granderson: It's a strategic game; he believes a re-elected Obama will do better on issue

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.

New York (CNN) -- I wanted to get mad, but I couldn't. I wanted to be hurt, but I wasn't.

For a moment I considered joining the small band of hecklers in the crowd during President Obama's speech at a New York fundraiser targeting the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) community, but I knew better.

I know better. And deep down inside, I think even the hecklers know better.

That as inspiring as it would have been to hear the president say he supports marriage equality, Thursday night simply was not the right time.

And it won't be tomorrow, or even next week.

That's not a defeatist attitude wrapped in dogmatism, but rather the depressing voice of pragmatism. I don't like it, and you (I hope) don't like it. But there is right and there is wrong, and then there's the cesspool of politics.

And while it's hardly dignifying to applaud -- at $1,250 a plate -- the president's strategic rhetoric of second-class citizenship, that rhetoric beats the hell out of the frothy mix of genuine bigotry and hate toward gays that some would prefer woven into the Constitution.

Obama speaks at LGBT gala fundraiser
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It's unfortunate that our political landscape is couched in a this-or-that framework, but until that changes, I don't see how marriage equality becomes a reality without playing the game.

"I think he said everything he could without saying what we wanted him to say," my friend and fundraiser attendee Hudson Taylor said.

I couldn't agree more.

There was a moment during Obama's speech where he was talking about equality in such a compassionate way that you literally could see the 600-plus bodies in the crowd lean forward, drawn in by the possibility that he was about to say he supported marriage equality.

And then...

"I believe that gay couples deserve the same legal right as everybody else."

Oh, so close. Close enough for some that they stood up and cheered.

And yet so far.

Far enough that quite a few remained seated with disgust.

And then there were a few hecklers, interrupting his speech to ask him point blank if he supported gay marriage. He deflected their catcalls with humor and by reminding the crowd that he has a track record that proves he is an ally.

And certainly it didn't take a genius to read between some of the lines of his 25-minute address. Lines such as "If you devote your time and your energies to this campaign one more time, I promise you we will write another chapter in that story," suggesting if re-elected he would then come out in favor of marriage equality.

If reading that makes you want to take a shower, it should.

But the reality is while recent Gallup polls suggest the majority of Americans support marriage equality by a thin margin, that does not mean the Electoral College will reflect that thin margin in 2012. And while it's fun for liberals to mock the current makeup of the GOP field as unelectable, 16 months is a long ways away.

President Clinton was out of the picture in the summer of 1991, but he didn't earn the nickname "the comeback kid" -- or the title of president -- by staying there. No matter how underwhelming his challengers may appear at the moment, Obama's second term is not a slam dunk, given the sluggish economy and high unemployment rate. Politically he can't afford to do what he didn't do, no matter how bad folks wanted him to do it.

Does this strategy energize his base? No.

But it doesn't provide his opponents with the kind of sound bite that could energize theirs, which is equally as important.

I suspect the reason why New York state Democrats did not aggressively push for a vote on marriage equality prior to Obama's address is because it helped a technically anti-gay marriage president avoid the uncomfortable scenario of asking a disappointed pro-gay marriage crowd for money.

It's one thing to be somewhat in the middle when there's no vote to react to, but it's doubtful the speech the president gave Thursday would have gone over well if marriage equality had been voted on and failed earlier.

This is the game that must be played in order to win the prize so many want to have. There will always be hecklers in the crowd and protesters in the streets to thankfully remind the president of the promises that he made. And thankfully, there will always be supporters who will hold their tongues, open their wallets and play this vile cat and mouse game.

Not because they like it.

But because they know politics, like the circus, requires its workers to deal with a whole lot of crap.

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

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