2012-05-12 08:00:00

Obama and Same-Sex Marriage: Thank His Kids

A couple of years ago I watched two friends, both Indian, get married in a beautiful garden in Santa Cruz, California. One was Christian, the other Hindu. So they had two marriage ceremonies. They cut a three-layered wedding cake and walked around a sacred fire and fished for a ring in a bowl. But the truly amazing part of the ceremony was when the father stepped forward to bless them. He had flown all the way from India to bless his son as he got married to another man.

At that moment I wondered if the fight over gay marriage was ending. The real battleground for same sex marriage has never been about societies. Legislation like the Defence of Marriage Act might be the final constitutional frontier. But the real fight for acceptance has always been fought within the four walls of our homes.

When President Obama said those ten words on television – “I think same-sex couple should be able to get married” – the analysts immediately got into a tizzy. Was he risking the Black vote and the Latino vote? The words were only symbolic even if he was the first sitting president to utter them. They don’t carry any legislative weight. Anyway his “evolution” was not entirely spontaneous. Vice President Joseph Biden forced his hand by saying he was “completely comfortable” with it. Education secretary Arne Duncan did the same. The chairman of the Democratic Party’s convention, LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had already called on Democrats to add support for same-sex marriage to the party platform. The President, whose new campaign slogan is “Forward” was starting to look too cautious and calculating if he didn’t say something.

All of that is about the politics.

For me the most significant thing he said was not about religion or politics. It was about his children.

His daughters, Malia and Sasha, have friends whose parents are same-sex couples. “It wouldn’t dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated differently. It doesn’t make sense to them and frankly, that’s the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective.”

But change, like charity, begins at home. That’s change that sticks. That’s change you can believe in.

Obama has been honest in admitting that the world’s most powerful man can learn something from his young daughters. That’s reason enough to applaud the man.

For a long time I found the fuss over same-sex marriage befuddling. Why couldn’t two people who cared for each other just live together without the marriage hoopla?

But then I saw my friends Ashok and Arvind. When the city of San Francisco first started issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples in 2004 they got up at 5:30 in the morning to go stand in line at City Hall. In a sense, they were already married several times over. They had registered as domestic partners in Palo Alto where they initially lived, then in San Jose where they moved, and then separately with the state of California. Unlike the average heterosexual couple who has one wedding anniversary Arvind and Ashok have had to register their union over and over again under different jurisdictions.

Arvind said he was standing in line at City Hall because he wanted to simplify his life. “I don’t want a Palo Alto date, a California date,’” he told me. “I just want one wedding anniversary like everyone else.”

Obama’s statement will not make life any different for couples like Arvind and Ashok who are already married. It has no legal weight to change anything for a couple who wants to get married in North Carolina which just passed an amendment that refuses to recognise any relationship that is not between a man and a woman. Unless the law changes at a federal level it won’t make a difference when it comes to immigration for gay couples a friend cautioned. The president was careful to say this just what he feels “personally”.

“But it still feels good,” my friend said.

Gay and lesbian desi activists in the US are elated. Trikone, the world’s oldest South Asian LGBT group, is planning to get together in a park this weekend to make a thank you collage for the president. “It feels amazing,” says Harsha Mallajoysula, the group’s advocacy director. “To witness his evolution is to believe that our personal stories have the power to change hearts and minds.”

Harsha is right. If there is any prism through which Indians understand this issue it’s through the personal, through marriage and family. I have said it as a joke before. I’ll say it in all seriousness now. In India, the final frontier will be same-sex marriage – arranged by parents. One of these days, sooner than later, whether politicians are ready or not, it will happen.

It will happen because of the conversations that happen between parents and children.

It will happen because of our Malias and Sashas.

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