Biden, Obama, and the gay marriage thing

In last night’s vice-presidential debate (potentially the most-watched VP debate in the history of television), Joe Biden spoke very succinctly and directly on the subject of gay marriage vs. legally-recognized civil unions.

IFILL: The next round of — pardon me, the next round of questions starts with you, Senator Biden. Do you support, as they do in Alaska, granting same-sex benefits to couples?
BIDEN: Absolutely. Do I support granting same-sex benefits? Absolutely positively. Look, in an Obama-Biden administration, there will be absolutely no distinction from a constitutional standpoint or a legal standpoint between a same-sex and a heterosexual couple.
The fact of the matter is that under the Constitution we should be granted — same-sex couples should be able to have visitation rights in the hospitals, joint ownership of property, life insurance policies, et cetera. That’s only fair.
It’s what the Constitution calls for. And so we do support it. We do support making sure that committed couples in a same-sex marriage are guaranteed the same constitutional benefits as it relates to their property rights, their rights of visitation, their rights to insurance, their rights of ownership as heterosexual couples do.
[snip of Palin’s response]
IFILL: Let’s try to avoid nuance, Senator. Do you support gay marriage?
BIDEN: No. Neither Barack Obama nor I support redefining from a civil side what constitutes marriage. We do not support that. That is basically the decision to be able to be able to be left to faiths and people who practice their faiths

Now, lots of folks are unhappy with his statement to varying degrees. Heck, I’m unhappy about it, but perhaps not precisely for the same reason — I’m not unhappy with the stated Obama/Biden stance (because I want them to win); I’m unhappy that civil liberties in the US have progressed only to the point where – today – this stance is the best we can possibly hope to hear.
Let me explain.
In his interview with Couric, Joe Biden talked about about Roe v. Wade and said: [I paraphrase] “I think it is the best possible ruling we can currently have within the United States.” He went on to break down the basics of the ruling-in-practice, trimester-by-trimester.
And he’s right, I think. In a country as incredibly diverse – both socially and religiously – as the US, Roe v. Wade goes about as far out on the “Choice” limb as you can go before the branch breaks.
Similarly, I think his answer on whether Obama/Biden supports equal legal recognition for gay couples was (and this is a phrase Obama’s former law students predicted would characterize his presidency) ruthlessly pragmatic. Do I wish for more and for better? ABSOLUTELY; it hurts my heart to know that some of my friends are not treated equally in this country.
However, if I am realistic (or ‘pragmatic’) about it, I readily recognize that the stance that Biden took in his answer is as progressive as a national candidate can be, today, in the U.S., and still have any hope of winning.
This is where we are. There is not one minority group in the US that enjoys 100% equality with white, anglo-saxon males. Not one. I’ve been standing right there and witnessed my brother-in-law discriminated against for the color of his skin; I’ve listened to people tell me that, in their opinion, his ‘mixed’ (their term) children were always going to have a hard life… and they thought it was a shame; that it would have been easier if those kids had not been born. It’s sickening; moreso because this is an improvement over the past.
TRUE equality for all Americans is, historically, something that happens step by step in the U.S. The fight never really stops, and it’s never really won.
But the steps do happen.
In (for instance) 1988, any Presidential candidate that gave the same answer as Biden would have been committing political suicide. But not last night.
Last night was a step.
It was small, and it was disappointing because some of us can SEE where we’re trying to get to, and these smaller, careful steps are INFURIATING, but for me, Joe Biden’s statement was heartening, because it is (in my opinion) absolutely as far out on the limb as you can go right now, without the branch breaking. Barack and Joe took a look at that important question and they chose the most progressive position possible, today.
Because that’s what you do, when your ultimate goal is to get all the way to the very end of the branch — you go out as far as you can possibly go.
Then you wait for the tree to grow.
Then you take another step.
That’s how the fight goes.