In lieu of President Obama's Hawaiian vacation, CNN highlighted the plight of a Hawaiian same-sex couple that will legally celebrate a civil union come January 1st, but desires federal marriage benefits that do not apply to same-sex couples. In a one-sided and sympathetic report, White House correspondent Brianna Keilar painted the picture of a President who could make a gain at the voting booth if he legalizes same-sex marriage.
CNN analyst and National Journal's Ron Brownstein strongly hinted that Obama could be alienating some of his liberal base by sitting on the fence over the gay marriage issue. He made the case that Obama may be losing socially-conservative Democrats anyway, and could "mobilize" voters by supporting same-sex marriage.
"Monica and Donna are part of that coalition," Keilar said referring to the coalition Brownstein said Obama "could mobilize" in the coming election. "They voted for President Obama in 2008, and while they think he now privately supports their desire for a federally-recognized marriage, they say that's not enough," Keilar added.
At the center of the story was a Hawaiian same-sex couple that desires the legal rights of married couples, and is waiting on President Obama to support same-sex marriage. CNN interviewed no one from the other side of the debate opposing gay marriage.
"We don't want to keep waiting and waiting," one of the subjects told CNN at the end of the sympathetic report. "What good does it do if you support it personally, but you don't put it out there for everybody to know that this is your stand?"
Keilar herself sounded almost hopeful as she analyzed Obama's "evolving" stance on gay marriage. "As a candidate, Obama supported civil unions, though he said the issue of marriage is best left up to the states. But this year, he's signaled he may change his mind," she reported.
A transcript of the segment, which aired on December 29 at 4:44 p.m. EST, is as follows:
BRIANNA KEILAR: (voice-over) When President Obama and his family ring in the new year here on Oahu, many same-sex couples in Hawaii will celebrate for a different reason. Civil unions become legal here on January 1st.
MONICA MONTGOMERY, planning civil union ceremony: Now our state has finally said we support you, and that leaves us a really good feeling.
KEILAR: Monica Montgomery is from Kailua, the town where the Obamas are vacationing. Her partner of 33 years, Donna Gedge, went to the same high school as President Obama. Shortly after midnight on New Year's Day, Gedge and Montgomery plan to seal their civil union with a ceremony.
(on camera) Why is it so important to do it at that very moment?
MONTGOMERY: Because we've waited so long.
Normally I wouldn't be functioning at 12:30 in the morning. That's not a time I would choose, but we want to do it, and do it right away.
KEILAR: (voice-over) They call it a step in the right direction. Because there's a big difference between states allowing civil unions or marriages, and the federal government condoning marriage. Same-sex couples do not qualify for federal rights afforded to heterosexual married couples – like social security benefits, immigration rights, or the ability to file federal taxes jointly. Even in Hawaii, marriage is defined by law as between a man and a woman – a position shared by Hawaii's most famous native son.
RICK WARREN, pastor, Saddleback Church: Define marriage.
President BARACK OBAMA: I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. Now for me as a Christian –
KEILAR: As a candidate, Obama supported civil unions, though he said the issue of marriage is best left up to the states. But this year, he's signaled he may change his mind.
President BARACK OBAMA: As I've said, my feelings about this are constantly evolving. I struggle with this.
KEILAR: The majority of Democrats and even independent voters support same-sex marriage. Observers like political analyst Ron Brownstein say the President appears to be playing to socially conservative Democrats who tend to be rural, older white voters without a college education.
RON BROWNSTEIN, senior political analyst: But the paradox is that he's already losing those voters in big numbers. He lost about three-fifths, for example, of both non-college whites and white seniors in 2008. They voted even more heavily for Republicans in 2010, and by avoiding these issues, he may be disappointing the actual coalition that he could mobilize in 2012.
KEILAR: Monica and Donna are part of that coalition. They voted for President Obama in 2008, and while they think he now privately supports their desire for a federally-recognized marriage, they say that's not enough.
DONNA GEDGE, planning civil union ceremony: What good does it do if you support it personally, but you don't put it out there for everybody to know that this is your stand?
We don't want to keep waiting and waiting.
(End Video Clip)
KEILAR: Now the White House is very sensitive to the suggestion that President Obama has not fully delivered for gay and lesbian Americans – pardon me, Wolf – you'll frequently hear White House officials touting what he has delivered on, the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, and of course the Justice Department has stopped defending that federal ban on same-sex marriage, questioning the constitutionality of it. But ultimately, Wolf, it seems like this will be a decision for the courts. There's a number of legal challenges winding their way through the system right now, but it's very possible, advocates think, that they won't see a resolution to this until after the election.