No Surprise: NYTimes's Nagourney Hails Obama's 'Historic' Risk-Taking on Gay Marriage

New York Times reporter Adam Nagourney departed from his L.A.-beat to comment on Obama's announcement yesterday in support of gay marriage, and didn't hedge on its "historic significance." The president's statement, delivered to ABC reporter Robin Roberts, predictably led Thursday's edition, and Nagourney's "news analysis" also made the front: "A Watershed Move, Both Risky and Inevitable."

President Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage on Wednesday was by any measure a watershed. A sitting United States president took sides in what many people consider the last civil rights movement, providing the most powerful evidence to date of how rapidly views are moving on an issue that was politically toxic just five years ago.

Mr. Obama faces considerable risk in jumping into this debate, reluctantly or not, in the heat of what is expected to be a close election. The day before he announced his position, voters in North Carolina -- a critical state for Mr. Obama and the site of the Democratic convention this summer -- approved by a 20-point margin a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. It was the 31st state to pass such an amendment.

As George W. Bush demonstrated in 2004, when his campaign engineered initiatives against gay marriage in a series of swing states, opponents are far more likely to vote on these issues than supporters. Mitt Romney, the probable Republican presidential candidate, was quick to proclaim his opposition to gay marriage after Mr. Obama spoke. And however much national attitudes may be shifting, the issue remains highly contentious among black and Latino voters, two groups central to Mr. Obama’s success.

Nagourney, who is openly gay, harkened back to President Lyndon Johnson's embrace of civil rights for an act of similar "riskiness" and "historic significance." So why didn't Obama make the announcement two days earlier, when it could have actually affected the vote in North Carolina? (To compare, the Washington Post's own front-page analysis, by Karen Tumulty, was far more sober and analytical than Nagourney's cheering tone.)

Mr. Obama’s declaration may have been belated and unplanned, forced out after his vice president, Joseph R. Biden Jr., during a television interview on Sunday declared his support for same-sex marriage. Still, it is a huge voice added to a chorus that has become increasingly robust, a reminder that a view that had once been relegated to the dark sidelines of political debate has become mainstream.

The very riskiness of what Mr. Obama did -- some commentators were invoking Lyndon B. Johnson’s embrace of civil rights in 1964, with all the attendant political perils -- made it hard to understate the historic significance of what took place at the White House on Wednesday.

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