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Late Night: Obama's gay marriage announcement wins praise

May 10, 2012 |  9:53 am
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Yesterday, President Obama surprised millions of Americans by declaring his personal support for gay marriage. The announcement, which came on the heels of North Carolina's vote to outlaw civil unions and same-sex marriages, was the fodder for much discussion on Wednesday night's talk shows, where hosts like Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Rachel Maddow responded to both developments with a range of emotions.

Colbert took his usual deeply ironic stance, suggesting that Obama's decision to go "push the rainbow button" represented an instantaneous threat to heterosexual unions everywhere. "This afternoon, your marriage started feeling a little weak, didn’t it?" he asked. "You got the sudden urge to abandon your family and go antiquing up at the cape."

Speaking about the vote in North Carolina, Colbert got a little verklempt. "You just dream of that special day when you can find your soul mate, and together you can celebrate your love of denying people their rights," he said, using a page from his script as a handkerchief.

Colbert also "praised" the outcome because it also helps "preserve traditional straight stereotypes" about gay promiscuity. "I believe gay people should be having hot, sweaty, anonymous man-piles in the basement of techno clubs devoid of the slightest emotional connection, as God intended." Amen to that!

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On "The Daily Show," Jon Stewart began on a more modest note. Just the day before, he had suggested that Obama was "being disingenuous" by not simply saying that he is in favor of same-sex marriage.

The historical import of Obama's announcement, which drew thunderous applause from the "Daily Show" audience, could "in no way be dampened by the codifying of bigotry" in North Carolina -- which, as Stewart pointed out, just so happens to be the state where  Democrats are holding their convention this year.

Stewart was skeptical of the idea that a ban on gay marriage would somehow alter the "historic meaning" of marriage. Even if it did, that might not be such a bad thing, he argued, since "marriage originated as a social construct that allowed family patriarchs to facilitate the transfer of chattel property such as livestock or daughters."

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Perhaps the most subdued response came from MSNBC host Rachel Maddow. Although she called Wednesday a "historic day for civil rights in America," she downplayed the idea that Obama's announcement represent a huge about-face -- or flip-flop, if you will -- by the president.

She argued that the Obama administration has been "great on the issue of gay rights" all along, even if he personally hasn't come out in favor of same-sex marriage. Maddow favorably compared the president to predecessors George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, who, despite claiming to personally admire gays and lesbians, enacted anti-gay policies in office.

"Ultimately what presidents do is they wield political power," she said. "Even before today, that legacy of that first term of the Barack Obama presidency was already clear. Today he added to that. He added icing to that. The cake was already baked."


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— Meredith Blake