President Barack Obama today announced his support for same-sex marriage. Six years after his 1996 declaration offering “unequivocal support for gay marriage,” which morphed into a proclaimed support only for same-sex civil unions, today President Obama joined with at least half of Americans who support the freedom of same-sex couples to marry. In late 2010 President Obama admitted he was “evolving” on same-sex marriage but has refused to move further until this week, prompted by Vice President Joe Biden‘s announcement on Meet The Press on Sunday that he is “absolutely comfortable” with same-sex couples marrying.
“I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married,” President Obama told Robin Roberts of ABC News this afternoon.
ABC NEWS adds:
“It’s interesting, some of this is also generational,” the president continued. “You know when I go to college campuses, sometimes I talk to college Republicans who think that I have terrible policies on the economy, on foreign policy, but are very clear that when it comes to same sex equality or, you know, sexual orientation that they believe in equality. They are much more comfortable with it. You know, Malia and Sasha, they have friends whose parents are same-sex couples. There have been times where Michelle and I have been sitting around the dinner table and we’re talking about their friends and their parents and Malia and Sasha, it wouldn’t dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated differently. It doesn’t make sense to them and frankly, that’s the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective.”
Roberts asked the president if First Lady Michelle Obama was involved in this decision. Obama said she was, and he talked specifically about his own faith in responding.
“This is something that, you know, we’ve talked about over the years and she, you know, she feels the same way, she feels the same way that I do. And that is that, in the end the values that I care most deeply about and she cares most deeply about is how we treat other people and, you know, I, you know, we are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated. And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids and that’s what motivates me as president and I figure the most consistent I can be in being true to those precepts, the better I’ll be as a as a dad and a husband and hopefully the better I’ll be as president.”
Peter Wallsten at the Washington Post today had noted that “the calculation has shifted since the Biden remarks put a harsher light on Obama’s efforts to navigate the issue. Suddenly, a president who hoped to portray himself as a confident and steady decision-maker — while painting Romney as a serial flip-flopper – risked looking weak and indecisive,” and added:
If Obama shifts, it will reflect a prevailing view on his team that the political risk of alienating anti-gay marriage voters was now superceded by the danger of tainting his image as a strong leader.
In that October, 2010 interview with gay blogger Joe Sudbay the President made his now-famous quote, that “attitudes evolve, including mine”:
I think it’s a fair question to ask. I think that — I am a strong supporter of civil unions. As you say, I have been to this point unwilling to sign on to same-sex marriage primarily because of my understandings of the traditional definitions of marriage.
But I also think you’re right that attitudes evolve, including mine. And I think that it is an issue that I wrestle with and think about because I have a whole host of friends who are in gay partnerships. I have staff members who are in committed, monogamous relationships, who are raising children, who are wonderful parents.
And I care about them deeply.
Then days before Christmas that year, again in an interview with Jake Tapper of ABC News, the President offered a more-developed version:
Now, with respect to the issue of whether gays and lesbians should be able to get married, I’ve spoken about this recently. As I’ve said, you know, my feelings about this are constantly evolving. I struggle with this. I have friends, I have people who work for me who are in powerful, strong, long-lasting gay or lesbian unions, and they are extraordinary people, and this is something that means a lot to them and they care deeply about.
At this point, what I’ve said is, is that my baseline is a strong civil union that provides them the protections and the legal rights that married couples have. And I think — and I think that’s the right thing to do. But I recognize that, from their perspective, it is not enough. And I think this is something that we’re going to continue to debate and I personally am going to continue to wrestle with going forward.
But in a little-known 1996 local newspaper political poll — and before his change of heart, mind, or strategy — then state-senate candidate Barack Obama wrote, “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.”
While U.S. President Barack Obama has achieved more on the front for civil rights for LGBT people than any other sitting president — including the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and a refusal to defend DOMA in court — his promise to the LGBT community to be a “fierce advocate” for gay rights feels to some to have fallen flat.
In December 2008, President-elect Barack Obama, walking what would be one of many tightropes on the issue of civil rights for the gay community, picked evangelical pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration — then defended the choice after a firestorm erupted by saying, “I think that it is no secret that I am a fierce advocate for equality for gay and lesbian Americans. It is something that I have been consistent on, and I intend to continue to be consistent on during my presidency.”
In addition to at least half of all Americans who support the rights of gays and lesbians to marry whom they love, the President joins Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan, along with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and the vast majority of Democratic Representatives and more than two dozen of U.S. Senators, and more than 100 mayors.
Also supporters of same-sex marriage are more than a dozen Governors and more than two dozen former Governors, former U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
The motivation behind President Obama’s “evolution” — and his decision to announce it six months ahead of what has already become a contentious election season — may be the fact that as The Washington Post notes, “At least one in six Obama bundlers are gay … making it hard for the president to ignore the growing frustrations.”
Noting that “leadership is about doing what’s right when it is neither easy nor convenient,” late this morning, before the President’s announcement, the Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart wrote:
Leadership on issues of civil rights is never easy or convenient because it requires bringing people to a just destination when they are not quite ready to get there. Still, that’s no excuse for inaction. That’s not say that Obama has ignored the inequities facing gays, lesbians and their families. He’s done more than all of his predecessors combined. But having his words match his considerable deeds would be the very definition of leadership.
The questions now become, given Obama’s new position, what will it mean in practice — will he help to push for new equality laws? — and will the LGBT community flock toward him?
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