The power of a president to change America

By Peter Fenn – 05/10/12 09:41 AM ET

The president did the right thing on announcing his support for gay marriage.

This issue is still viewed by some as a wedge issue — maybe, maybe not. It remains to be seen whether it will cost the president in the upcoming election. But, as usual, he made his decision on what he believes is right.

The critics are screaming about flip-flopping (hard to believe, coming from the Mitt Romney supporters).

But think about the president’s statements about his views “evolving” on the issue.

That is precisely where most Americans have been these last few years … evolving. Few hardcore social issues have seen this much change in public opinion this fast. Americans’ views have been seriously evolving. From 62-30 percent opposed to gay marriage in March of 2004 to 49-40 percent in favor a couple of months ago. Going from over 2-to-1 against to almost a majority supporting in a very short time.

Let’s face it, this is an issue of tolerance and fairness. The American people get that. Plus, it is personal. Nearly everyone knows someone who is gay, many have family members who are gay, lesbian or transgender. We are a society that understands what love is, that understands what stable relationships are, that celebrates openness and transparency.

Consider the incredible acceptance of interracial marriages. I looked it up. According to Gallup, 86 percent of Americans in 2011 supported interracial marriages; “universal acceptance” was the term they used.

In 1958, do you know the percentage of Americans who favored interracial marriages? It was 4 percent — 4 percent. By 1968 it had grown to 20 percent, by 1978 it was 36 percent, by ’88 it grew to 48 percent, by ’98 it was 64 percent.

I venture to say that views certainly evolved on that issue; it is clear that the cultural transformation is happening much faster with gay marriage, faster than any of us would have predicted a decade ago.

The clear message is that the train has left the station. In 10 years we will look back on the statewide ballot initiatives, such as the one that just passed in North Carolina, and truly wonder, what the hell were we thinking?