Commentary: That human journalistic flaw

by Mark Segal

Vice President Biden’s comments about marriage equality were no surprise to me. Why? The night before the president’s statement on same-sex marriage, I was honored to be the keynote speaker at Drexel University’s gay pride celebration. After my talk, someone asked whether I thought President Obama would support gay marriage. My response was, “He’s evolving on the issue and I expect that evolution to be complete by the end of November.” It got the expected laugh. Less than 24 hours later, the evolution was complete, six months ahead of schedule.

That announcement put LGBT equality front and center in the presidential race and, thus far, no political pundit worth his or her weight can make an intelligent guess if this will help, hurt or not even matter in the November election. But one point is clear: Republicans are still uncomfortable with the subject, using Rick Santorum as an example. This was the last year that Republicans could attempt to scare voters with the LGBT card. It’s over and they know it. Don’t take my word; take Karl Rove’s, who said the following after Obama announced his support for marriage equality: “He’s just using it for political purposes.” You remember Karl. He’s the guy who, along with the now-out Ken Mehlman, used anti-gay-marriage amendments across the country to win George Bush a second term.

So how far and fast has this issue changed with Americans? Let me give you an example from just four years ago from the Democratic Convention. The morning after Joe Biden was nominated as Obama’s V.P., his first speaking engagement was with the Pennsylvania Delegation. I reported on one conversation at that meeting but this is the first time I’m reporting the second, which was with Jill Biden, the vice-presidential nominee’s wife.

After making a triumphant entrance, V.P. nominee Biden made his way to the platform to deliver a few remarks to what is almost his hometown crowd. Jill Biden was standing on the side and we spoke for a while. She knew I was from PGN and I asked her a few questions. Then I asked about gay marriage. She thought and then said, “Of course I support it.” Full disclosure, Jill Biden is so delightful, personable and brilliant that I didn’t do my job as a journalist and instead dispensed some advice: “Since Joe is the [V.P.] nominee, the two of you might want to mirror Obama’s position.” It was her first day on the job and I didn’t want to be the one to spoil it. I didn’t ask the vice presidential nominee that question. Was that a missed opportunity? I’m happy to say I have no regrets.

The second conversation that morning was with MSNBC pundit/personality Chris Mathews, who was considering a run against Sen. Arlen Specter, and that conversation was reported in the LGBT press.

Here is the exchange:

MS: You’re running for Senate in Pennsylvania. As you know, there are some very important issues going on. We have a Republican in that seat, Specter, who voted two ways on the Defense of Marriage Act. So what would you be doing?

CM: Well, first I’m not going to answer it that way. I always start with freedom. That’s where I start on every issue, whether it’s reproductive rights or it’s crime. There’s a constitutional right that starts with freedom and inherent rights, exclusive rights to the Constitution. But I really do believe that we always as Americans start with that. Then we work our way through things. Do you understand? It’s very important. Individual freedom has always been the way we start. First governments, sequestered governments like in England, always start with state power. This country has always started with individual freedom as the basis to work at what you allow the state to do. But obviously, this is an evolving thing; my thinking now is different from what it was 10 years ago. [For] a lot of people it’s been evolving, and for a lot of gay people it’s been evolving. A lot of gay people didn’t think marriage was going to be the issue. A lot of friends of mine didn’t think it was going to be an issue, because it was too far out. A lot of people are changing on these issues. I think a lot of people are going to work our way through these things.

MS: Well, where are you on the issue?

CM: I have an open heart. I’ll have to live with it.

MS: In other words, you won’t answer the question.

CM: I can answer it the way I have, which is any fucking way I want. I can answer in my way even if it isn’t your way.

What’s interesting here is the irritation Mathews had with the question. I’d like to believe he was in that “evolution” mode. Again, no regrets. Watching Matthews show his support of marriage equality now sometimes amazes me. He completely gets it and could give other pundits lessons in the proper journalistic use of words and terms to describe marriage equality. He has become passionate on the issue, something only someone who supports civil rights could do.

Mark Segal, PGN publisher, is the nation’s most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. He can be reached at mark@epgn.com.

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