Why we shouldn't applaud the 'courage' of politicians backing gay marriage

Jeb Golinkin

It doesn't take guts to endorse an increasingly popular position

In the lead-up to this week's gay marriage arguments at the Supreme Court, legislators and wannabe presidents are coming out of the woodwork to express their support for gay marriage. Jon Huntsman. Rob Portman. Hillary Clinton. Claire McCaskill. Mark Warner. Mark Begich.

But before we rush to heap praise on these individuals for standing up for gay rights, we should probably ask a few questions. Here's one: Dick Cheney publicly supported allowing gay couples to marry in 2009 — what took the rest of these folks so long? 

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With the possible exception of Portman, who is a Republican senator and might actually face a constituent backlash for backing gay unions, none of gay marriage's newest supporters uttered a word of support until doing so became politically attractive. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who has now taken to playing the role of America's Most Serious-Minded Republican (and who I happen to like very much), supported an amendment to the Utah Constitution that banned both gay marriage and domestic unions. Not coincidentally, Huntsman was running for governor at the time. Now that the political winds have changed — a Washington Post/ABC News poll says nearly three-fifths of the country is now in favor of same-sex marriage — Huntsman and Co. are now for gay marriage, too.

President Obama appeared to have been pressured into publicly supporting gay marriage last year as a result of his VP's seemingly impulsive decision to do so himself. (Both opposed same sex marriage during the 2008 presidential campaign.) Former Secretary of State (and future presidential candidate) Hillary Clinton didn't convert until earlier this month. Senator McCaskill converted on Sunday night after having explicitly refused to take the same position less than a year ago, when she was running for re-election. Democratic Senators Begich and Warner followed suit on Monday.

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It's difficult to imagine that anyone discussed in this article, including the Republicans, were ever truly worked up about same-sex marriage. More likely, they were simply ambivalent or quietly supportive, but did not want to take the political risk of actually supporting gay marriage out loud. And fair enough. It is hard to get too worked up that these leaders did not make themselves political martyrs fighting for gay rights. But that these leaders waited until now to speak up should make us equally reluctant to pat them on the backs for their "courage." Instead, we should see these leaders for what they are: Gay marriage’s fair-weather fans.

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