Saturday, April 17, 2010

In Hospital Decision, Obama Finds Safe Ground on Gay Rights

President Obama has found a way to support gay rights that least offends those who oppose them.

Allowing same-sex partners the same rights as straight couples to visit and make medical decisions for their hospitalized loved ones enjoys broad public backing, even as the country remains polarized over the question of marriage rights for gay men and lesbians.

Mr. Obama’s unexpected move, which was announced through a memorandum released Thursday night, brought muted responses from conservative groups. Rather than argue that same-sex partners should not be granted equal medical rights, they asserted that Mr. Obama was pandering to his political base and undermining the traditional definition of marriage.

They also said that Mr. Obama was reinforcing the idea that his is a left-leaning administration that dictates solutions from Washington.

But they did not say Mr. Obama’s argument — that gay men and lesbians deserve the same rights as others to have partners visit them in hospitals or make medical decisions that were previously agreed — was wrong on the merits. Public opinion polls show that those measures are widely supported, at times by more than 8 in 10 Americans, even though fewer than half of poll respondents typically support same-sex marriage.

“I think it’ll be relatively noncontroversial,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster in Virginia. “In this day and age, basic rights are deemed to be accorded to everyone. This allows him to give something to his base without worrying too much about backlash on the other side.”

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