Locally, cheers, sneers at 'evolution' of Obama's position on gay marriage

President Barack Obama, in a televised interview Wednesday, gave unqualified support to gay marriage. (Associated Press)

When Artie Van Why heard President Obama had declared his support for gay marriage on Wednesday, he immediately called the White House.

"I said, 'Would you please tell President Obama that I thank him for his courageous stand for marriage equality?' " said Van Why, a writer who works at the Fulton Theatre box office.

Van Why, 59, of Lancaster, who has been in a relationship with another man for a year, said he was "absolutely thrilled. I think it's a courageous, courageous, bold move on his part."

He said he respected Obama's oft-stated position that his stance on gay marriage was "evolving."

"If it's took him this long (to decide), I'm not going to quibble with that," Van Why said. "I do know it's a political hot-button. He may have danced around, but even if he did that, I again want to believe it was true" that his position evolved.

Patty Myers, 58, a Lancaster homemaker and lesbian, said she thought the announcement was fabulous and historic, "but I think he'll lose the election because of it."

With Vice President Joe Biden voicing support for gay marriage Sunday and Education Secretary Arne Duncan following up Monday, Myers said Obama's hand was forced.

"It's a civil rights issue, just the same as the civil rights issues of the '60s," she said.

"As a gay woman, I'm thrilled to death - as a gay woman who's been in a relationship for 17 years with the same woman," she said.

Myers and her partner participated in a civil ceremony in Delaware on June 21, 1997, though it's not legally recognized.

Melody Keim, co-chair of Lancaster PRIDE, the festival for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community, said she was excited at the news.

"It is really, I think, about civil rights and equal rights," she said. "It really legitimizes gay relationships in a way that is very, very important and has important consequences across the nation."

Unlike Myers, Keim doesn't think the announcement will necessarily cost Obama the White House.

"The nation's moving on this issue," she said, citing the repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" law. "I think it's hard to judge exactly how it plays out in terms of the elections."

Obama's support, she said, legitimizes those who have been in long-term same-sex relationships.

"When we have a president who does make it clear what his stance is, that changes perception," she said, adding that can pave the way to legal change.

Area lawmakers weren't as enthusiastic.

In an emailed statement, U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts wrote: "Over twelve million Americans are without jobs today. I wish the President was talking about that instead of redefining marriage."

Rep. Scott Boyd, R-West Lampeter, said Obama was playing politics.

"I'm not surprised because I think that's been his position all along and I think he's playing politics to get elected and I think he made a calculated decision that this is what's best for him on a national level to get elected," he said.

"This isn't something that you wake up and go, 'Oh, I changed my opinion on what the definition of marriage is,' " he said.

In 2006, Boyd backed legislation in Harrisburg that would have banned same-sex marriages, but it stalled.

Michael Geer, president of the Pennsylvania Family Institute, which has opposed gay marriage, said Obama was simply returning to his roots, noting Obama supported gay marriage during his 1996 Illinois senate run.

"The Obama administration has consistently and persistently advocated for same-sex marriage," said Geer, of Elizabethtown. "It's just that the president, for obvious political reasons, has tried to hide from his true position on it, and that's unfortunate leadership."

Kyle Kopko, an Elizabethtown College political professor, wasn't surprised.

"I think a lot of people realized this was something the administration was going to support anyway," he said.

Kopko echoed others who felt Obama's hand was forced with Biden's comments Sunday.

Kopko wasn't sure whether the issue would help or hinder Obama's campaign.

He still expects the economy will be the main issue in the campaign.

dnephin@lnpnews.com

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