Barack Obama made himself a one-term president last week by telling ABC, "I think that same-sex couples should be able to get married."
Up till now, he was politically savvy, saying his position was "evolving." But in repealing the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, he revealed to sophisticates where he stood. Another clear signal was Mr. Obama's refusal to allow the Justice Department to defend in court the Defense of Marriage Act defining marriage as "a legal union between one man and one woman."
Congress feared the U.S. government would pay Social Security survivor benefits to "husbands" of men dying of AIDS. DOMA passed in 1996 by 342-67 in the House and by 85-14 in the Senate. Even Joe Biden voted for it.
By not saying he favored gay marriage, Mr. Obama clearly hoped to avoid galvanizing conservatives in such states as North Carolina, which last week passed a constitutional amendment to limit marriage to unions of one man and one woman.
Vice President Joe Biden and Education Secretary Arne Duncan created an unexpected pressure on him to declare his support openly, but early last week his press spokesman would only say the president's position was "evolving." For three years?
That was no longer a tenable position. He had to state his support, as he did on a previous occasion, when running for the Illinois Senate in 1996.
But at what cost?
North Carolina became the 32nd state on Tuesday to vote against same-sex marriage. The public has been given a voice 32 times and voted it down every time. Mr. Obama knew this fact on Wednesday in declaring his backing.
Some said he was courageous. Perhaps, but I conclude he signed his political death certificate.
North Carolina is a state he won narrowly in 2008. But it voted 61-39 in favor of traditional marriage. Will voters there forget Mr. Obama thumbed his nose at their vote the next day?
Maine's legislature voted for same-sex marriage in 2009. But the public overturned it in a referendum in 2010 and voted out dozens of legislators who supported it.
Maryland's legislature voted for same-sex marriage by one vote, but Catholic and black churches are gathering signatures for a November ballot, where I predict it will be overturned.
Consider California, which gave President Obama a 24-point margin over Sen. John McCain in 2008 but at the same time approved Proposition 8, to put "one man, one woman" into its constitution, by 52-48.
That was not an easy victory. An early poll found the liberal state opposed Prop 8 by 54 to 40. Thousands of evangelical and Catholic churches got involved and raised millions to make a case for Prop 8.
One TV ad stated, "Children in public schools will have to be taught that same-sex marriage is just as good as traditional marriage." The supporters of gay marriage were horrified and raised millions for ads charging that Prop 8 had nothing to do with the schools, adding that same-sex marriage would not be taught in public schools.
Counter ads proved that assertion wrong, noting that California's schools have to teach "respect for marriage and committed relationships." The battle then turned nasty, with acts of vandalism and claims of bigotry against supporters of traditional marriage. In the end churches raised $38 million for Prop 8, winning over many blacks who voted for President Obama.
One African-American Democrat recently quoted in The Washington Post put it this way: "I'd love to be supportive of my president. I have to be loyal to my God." Now that Mr. Obama openly supports same-sex marriage, many blacks in Maryland — and across the nation — will be similarly torn.