In Our View: Obama Makes a Good Call

President will end up on the right side of history in debate over gay marriage

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President Obama has, we believe, landed on the right side of history in the debate over gay marriage.With a much-discussed declaration that he supports the rights of same-sex couples to marry, the president has anticipated the future of the debate, which decades from now will be no debate at all. Gay marriage someday will be legal throughout the country, and future generations will wonder what all the fuss was about.

This, of course, is merely a prediction, and it is not necessarily a prediction delivered in celebration nor in resignation. It is, however, a prediction supported by trends in public opinion; and by the fact that younger people tend to be more accepting of the notion of gay marriage; and by the inevitable evolution of a society that once debated slavery and women’s suffrage and interracial marriage.

As The Columbian stated editorially in the past, we view the issue of gay marriage to be one of fairness and one of extending similar rights to all citizens.

Not that Obama’s declaration will put an end to the debate. We expect those who oppose gay marriage to continue to express their opinions, and we welcome a healthy and meaningful dialogue.

The tradition of marriage and the nature of religious beliefs are strong, valid arguments in opposition to gay marriage, and they are to be respected. Suggesting that somebody who opposes gay marriage does so solely out of bigotry is, in itself, a vile form of intolerance.

We do, however, dismiss the argument that allowing gays to marry somehow diminishes the nature and the meaning of heterosexual marriages. If gay partners are willing to stand up and make a lifelong commitment to each other, we fail to see how that has anything to do with anybody else’s marriage.

For those whose religious beliefs teach that marriage is between a man and a woman and is sanctioned by God, the notion of gay marriage does not alter that. Under those beliefs, a gay couple is not truly married, and how the state views it does not change that perception. We can respect that.

All of that said, Obama’s statement was largely symbolic rather than practical. States make their own laws regarding marriage without input from the federal government, and 42 states have banned gay marriage through either statute or constitutional amendment.

That indicates the delicacy of Obama’s election-year stance. Several swing states in the presidential election -- such as Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina -- have passed bans on gay marriage. The issue of gay marriage has proven to be a strong draw for getting people to the polls, and that could work against Obama in November.

That likely won’t be at play in Washington, where Obama carried 58 percent of the vote in 2008.

Since then, Washington put in place a domestic partnership law that was affirmed by voters two years ago. A same-sex marriage bill — expanding the law beyond domestic partnerships — was passed this year by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire. The law is scheduled to go into effect June 6, although it might face a challenge if opponents of the law can gather enough signatures to place Referendum 74 on the ballot. Petitions also are circulating for Initiative 1192, which would ban same-sex marriage.

As they consider the future of gay marriage in our own state, we trust that Washingtonians will stand on the right side of history.