Thea Hawlin on why the 'Yes we can' of America will never prevail without the 'I do' of its people.
It takes a lot of courage to say what you really think; it takes even more courage when you are the President of one of the most powerful countries on earth, addressing the world. On the 9 May 2012 President Barack Obama became the first sitting US president to back same-sex marriage, marking a significant historical, political and cultural moment.
Although the president stressed it was a personal opinion, saying he still supported states deciding on the issue for themselves, what was striking was his ability to take this issue into his own hands. His decision to speak out on a personal level as well as a political one is commendable, especially in his unabashed delivery: whereas other leaders may shy away from such issues Obama took them head on. In an interview with Robin Roberts for ABC news Roberts noted how 'It was very important for him to say it himself and not have other people say it on his behalf' and this intimacy is what has made the statement so striking:
'At a certain point, I've just concluded that-- for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that-- I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.'
'It's a pretty simple proposition' he was recorded saying earlier at the 2011 HRC Annual National Dinner, 'every single American deserves to be treated equally in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of our society'. His emphasis in his support of same-sex marriage rested on these previous statements, his belief that people should be treated 'fairly...equally', something which sadly has yet to become a reality in contemporary society.
After all his remarks come a day after North Carolina became the 30th state to ban gay marriage, voting for a constitutional ban on same-sex unions. It's shocking and rather disturbing that no one has spoken out sooner against this issue--that such overt discrimination can still exist in our society, a discrimination that if transferred to any other minority group would almost certainly have been instantly taken up as a serious breach of human rights. Marriage is a powerful word, and Obama confesses he was 'sensitive to the fact that the word marriage evokes very powerful traditions and religious beliefs'. In his interview it was made clear he is still a practising Christian, something many might have assumed would put him at odds with this opinion, yet Obama is strong enough to assert those beliefs on which religion is founded, maintain his conviction that you have to: 'Treat others the way you'd want to be treated.' It's a 'what would Jesus do?' situation and he's got it spot on.
Obama is a man who knows what he believes, yet like any other human being he is not always sure. He describes the process by which he reached this opinion as an 'evolution', brutally honest about the difficulty of reaching his own personal position. He admits that like many of his contemporaries for a while he hesitated about endorsing same sex marriage in the belief that 'civil unions would be sufficient' yet after these 'several years' of conflict he remerges with a familiar, 'Yes we can'. The humorous associations of his original campaign phrase with the childish Bob the Builder's 'Can we fix it?' strikes home here. After ridicule for his lack of action in his first year of presidency, it seems that Obama is fighting back. Showing the world he is unafraid to act on what is right, he is unafraid to stand against other members of his society; unafraid to 'fix it'.
The hope of 'Yes we can' depended on a vision of a better future, a future of equality, of a united 'we'. What acts like this statement show is that this future will never come to pass without the action of individuals literally saying 'I do'. It is only with a united 'I do' that America will be able to fulfil its joyful declaration: 'Yes we can'. Let's hope they make it to the church on time.