Obama’s opportunity

By Jan Bogaarts

On June 26th 2015 the United States Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage a constitutional right in the case of Obergefell et al. v. Hodges. This decision was supported by 5 of the 4 justices, a small but huge difference. Gay marriage and LGBT rights have played an important role in american politics especially since the 1970´s. Activists, politicians and celebrities have stood in the face of injustice when the odds were against them. Harvey Milk, Harry Hay and many others paved what has been the path of change for the institution of marriage.

The last notorious civil rights movement in the United States was that against racial discrimination and segregation. Today the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is seen by many as the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Rosa Parks. However the man who signed the Act was Lyndon Baines Johnson, the democratic president of the United States between 1963 and 1969. Not only did Johnson sign, he closely worked with Dr. King to design the act and put it in motion.

Often U.S. presidents are judged by their legacy. LBJ’s legacy is civil rights (and the Vietnam war). The civil rights movement opened a political space for Lyndon Johnson and the democratic party to move into. The democratic party is seen today as the more progressive one and is more likely to be chosen by minorities. If the U.S. president at the time had been republican, the democratic party may not have had an edge over the them. This shows the importance of timing in politics.

The timing of the Supreme Court ruling gives president Obama a chance building his “legacy”. In other words, the Supreme Court ruling has created a political space in which president Obama has a first mover advantage to create a legacy for him and the democratic party. Occupying this political space reinforces the image of democrats as progressive and open minded but the fact that it happened during their presidency is just a coincidence.