By CATHY BUSSEWITZ
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Emotions in Sonoma County ranged from elation and praise to resigned acceptance after President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that he supports same-sex marriage.
Advocates were exhilarated that Obama declared his support after remaining elusive on the topic for years.
And opponents, while disagreeing with Obama’s position, said they were not surprised.
“It’s about time,” said Charity Ellenwood, 27, a transgender volunteer with Positive Images, a Santa Rosa support center for gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual youths. “And I’m very happy that he supports us, because we support him and what he does.”
Obama’s statement was made during the heat of a presidential campaign, when raising money and courting voters are are critical, a coincidence noted by proponents and opponents alike.
“I personally disagree with the position, but I respect the fact that he is attempting to court a portion of the population and raise money, and that’s happening as we speak,” said Tim Arensmeier, pastor of the Sonoma Valley Community Church. “He’s running for re-election.”
Arensmeier did not think Obama’s statement would affect his chances at re-election. But others, such as retired Army Brigadier General Keith Kerr, who concealed his homosexuality for 30 years and came out in retirement, thought Obama’s statement would be a boon to his campaign.
“I think Americans are sharply divided on this issue, but many other countries in the world seem to have accepted same-sex marriage without severe damage to their social fabric,” Kerr said. “I think it’s a victory for all Americans, and I think the opposition will come to accept it.”
Ray Henderson, president of the Santa Rosa Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said that although the Mormon church disagrees with Obama on same-sex marriage, it supports and prays for the president in his role as the leader of the nation.
“I think the important thing here is that we’re respectful of each other, and that we have a civil discourse,” Henderson said.
Politicians representing the North Coast — all Democrats — voiced support for the president’s words.
“I couldn’t be prouder that the president of the United States now views marriage equality — the right to say “I Do” to the person you love — as among our most fundamental rights as Americans,” said U.S. Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma.
Susan Adams, who is running for congressional seat being vacated by Woolsey, offered a similar assessment. “It’s so important for the president to take this step, and it shows he is really listening to what people say about an issue that affects so many Americans, including my own daughter,” she said.
Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, Sen. Barbara Boxer and state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco also voiced support.
At Positive Images, Ellenwood and others hoped the president’s announcement would encourage people across the country to be more accepting of same-sex marriage.
“In 10 years, this is going to be a non-issue,” said Nancy Vogl, the organization’s co-director. “The newest generation in the United States has grown up with gay and lesbian aunts, uncles, mothers, fathers, sons … there’s somebody in every family.”