Sadly, I think it’s the latter. As many others have remarked on a variety of issues, one of the most pernicious effects of the right wing has been to mainstream crazy and hateful positions. In terms of gay rights, as has been the case with many other issues, this has reduced the debate to two positions:
Either you believe that gay marriage will lead to man-on-box turtle sex, or you are part of the Coalition of the Sane.
Of course, it is lunacy, not to mention bigotry and hatred, to think that gay marriage would lead to bestiality. But that doesn’t mean that everyone in the Coalition of the Sane is necessarily gay-friendly either.
For me, the real question is: do you view gays and lesbians as a “them” or an “us”? That is, when gay people do not have the same freedoms and liberties, do you say we don’t have the same rights? Mind you, this has nothing to do with sexual orientation–my (perhaps incorrect) impression is that nearly everyone at ScienceBlogs who has criticized Obama on this issue is straight. Nor does this have to do with how one personally interacts with gays (insert your “my best friend is gay” joke here, although if that is true, you’re probably disgusted with the Obama administration about gay rights).
But when gay people criticize Obama, do you view gays as a troublesome “them” or as an “us”, just as many people view racist slurs as an attack on “us” even if they are not part of the attacked group? Sadly, when it comes to President Obama, I think, based on his actions as president and a candidate, he views the abstraction of gay people as a “them”, not an “us.” Whether this is some weird religious influence (although Reverend and Representative John Lewis is a staunch supporter of gay rights), a generational influence that Obama hasn’t been forced to personally confront, or he’s just an asshole on this issue, I don’t think he is able to identify with gay people in the abstract.
This blind spot is starting to weaken him politically because this, unlike macroeconomic policy, is something that’s easy to understand and personalize. And his straight base is not happy about his position or breach of promises.