John Cloud writes a lot of stories for Time, but the one I remember best was his defense of Ann Coulter for her use of the word "faggot." Cloud, who is gay, said that Coulter "was using the word 'faggot' with virtual quote marks around it" and he vouched for her personal tolerance:
Coulter has at least one close gay friend, and when I was reporting my profile of her, she always remembered to ask about my partner at the time. She is always trying to get me to go with her to the Halloween parade in Manhattan's West Village, which is the second-gayest event in New York City after the Pride parade.
So I was a little taken aback when I read Cloud's piece in Time today on Obama's selection of Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration. Cloud writes:
Obama has proven himself repeatedly to be a very tolerant, very rational-sounding sort of bigot. He is far too careful and measured a man to say anything about body parts fitting together or marriage being reserved for the non-pedophilic, but all the same, he opposes equality for gay people when it comes to the basic recognition of their relationships. He did throughout his campaign, a campaign that featured appearances by Donnie McClurkin, a Christian entertainer who preaches that homosexuals can become heterosexuals.
Obama reminds me a little bit of Richard Russell Jr., the longtime senator from Georgia who — as historian Robert Caro has noted — cultivated a reputation as a thoughtful, tolerant politician even as he defended inequality and segregation for decades. Obama gave a wonderfully Russellian defense of Warren Thursday at a press conference. Americans, he said, need to "come together" even when they disagree on social issues. "That dialogue is part of what my campaign is all about," he said. Russell would often use the same tactic to deflect criticism of his civil rights record. It was a distraction, Russell said, from the important business of the day uniting all Americans. Obama also said today that he is a "fierce advocate for equality" for gays, which is — given his opposition to equal marriage rights — simply a lie. It recalls the time Russell said, "I'm as interested in the Negro people of my state as anyone in the Senate. I love them."
I agree with Cloud that Obama's wrong to oppose equal marriage rights. That said, Obama's hardly the only politician who holds that view, and he's better than a lot of them in that he opposed Prop 8 (albeit not as vocally as he might have). What's more, Coulter, despite her close gay friend and her friendly questions about Cloud's partner, seems to be a pretty big opponent of gay marriage herself--and a much more strident one than Obama. Here she is in 2005:
"During the gay-marriage debate, these black ministers would come on TV and say things no white conservative would say. 'Sodomy? You're going to burn in hell for that!' And I realized to my delight that if we can get blacks to be conservatives, we have an entire race of Ann Coulters. They do not care about politically correct. It would be so much fun. And they are conservative! I'm going to specifically appeal to them. I decided it's the only free speech I'm willing to give this year. I will go to a black church and talk about gay marriage. The brothers aren't big on queer theory. The four groups most opposed to gay marriage are blacks, Hispanics, old people and blue-collar workers-i.e., the four pillars of the Democratic Party."
Of course, she was saying all this with virtual quote marks.