Pride in a president's support for marriage rights | Arkansas Blog

Pride in a president's support for marriage rights

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CAUGHT OfF GUARD: Jay Barth.
  • Hendrix College
  • 'CAUGHT OFF GUARD': Jay Barth.
Jay Barth, Hendrix professor and regular Arkansas Times columnist, wrote last night with a reaction to President Obama's support for same-sex marriage. It was an occasion, Barth writes, for "civic pride in an evolving nation and its leader."

Barth and Chuck Cliett were married recently in New York, whose law doesn't prevent people of the same sex from marrying. Their union was celebrated not long ago at a Little Rock church packed to overflowing with friends.

His brief essay follows:

An Older Brother’s Approval

Jay Barth

Thankfully, my family always has accepted and approved of me being gay, so I’ve never faced the difficult situation that many young people face when they come out. Moreover, my relationship with the wonderful man who became my spouse a few weeks back (at least in the eyes of the state of New York) also has been embraced by my family and friends. Why wouldn’t they? He’s about the nicest person in the world.

Having been a child in the Nixon era and having come of age in the Reagan era, I’d also pretty fully gotten over what felt like an antiquated notion that the President is “The Father of Our Country.” Instead of seeing Presidents as larger than life figures, I’ve seen Presidents as politicians—some are pretty talented and good-hearted folks, others are well-meaning and inept, and others are really bad— but they’re nothing special aside from their constitutional and war-making powers.

For these two reasons, I was totally caught off guard by the emotional reaction I had to President Obama’s announcement on Wednesday that he has now “evolved” to a state of full support of marriage between two persons of the same sex. In the abstract, I didn’t need the approval of the President of the United States to be who I am and to love the guy I do. With the news that President Obama had made history through his interview with ABC News, however, I realized that the expression of unequivocal respect of relationships like mine by the President (because of my age, now more the “Older Brother of Our Country” than a father figure) did indeed make me feel more fully a citizen of this country that’s my home.

As someone born before the gay rights movement began in 1969, who remembers gay folks in his community described in whispered and scandalized terms, who was chilled by Jerry Falwell advocating for the incarceration of gay men during the early days of the AIDS epidemic, and who has witnessed the fast-paced social and political change on LGBT issues over the past two decades, I’ve seen a whole country “evolve” on the intersecting issues of LGBT rights and marriage equality. As a social scientist who studies changes in public opinion as a profession, I’ve observed this recent history largely in a detached manner. On Wednesday, however, I was anything but detached. Hearing the President of the United States “affirm” his belief that “same sex couples should be able to get married” made me feel both exceptionally happy and exceptionally proud—a civic pride in an evolving nation and its leader.

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