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Checking in on Obama’s same-sex marriage ‘evolution’

There’s something annoying and a tad obnoxious about President Obama’s “evolving” non-position on same-sex marriage. Later today, he may clarify.

In 2008, candidate Obama ran as someone who favored civil unions but not marriage for gays and lesbians. During his term he has done done away with the U.S. military’s way-too-cute Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell policy on gay soldiers and he announced at one point that his views on full marriage rights were “evolving.”

If you think about the word “evolving,” it suggests that he is on his way to crossing the rubicon to full support. But after a while, leaving yourself in “evolving” status seems like a dodge. Since this is an election, Americans are entitled to know what his policy will be if he wins a second term.

And, since this is an election year and since support for gay marriage varies widely on a state-by-state and voting-bloc-by-voting-bloc basis, it’s impossible to take the politics out of any presidential/candidate-ential utterances on the topic.

For example, North Carolina — a swing state that Obama carried in 2008 and one of the nine states where Obama has begun advertising — voted just yesterday by an overwhelming 61-39 percent to embed a same-sex marriage ban in the state Constitution. The Washington Post notes that about one in six of the top “bundlers” for Obama (those are key fund-raisers who bundle together a lot of contributions) are gay.

As you have probably  heard (because everyone’s been talking about it this week), Vice President Joe Biden said on “Meet the Press” Sunday that he is “absolutely comfortable” with full equality for same-sex couples. He didn’t explicitly speak for Obama. Punditland has been guessing whether this was a coordinated rollout of a new administration position or whether Biden just decided to give a fairly candid answer to a direct question.

This morning comes news that Obama will sit down this afternoon with Robin Roberts, co-anchor of ABC’s “Good Morning America,” for an interview that will include an update on his evolving thinking. ABC says it will air some excerpts later in the day. They haven’t specified when that might occur, but the ABC evening news (5:30 our time on KSTP Channel 5) would be a likely place to see what Obama said, although it’s quite possible elements of the conversation will leak out during the afternoon.

It should be noted that defining marriage is fundamentally a state issue. At a federal level, the big deal would be the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which establishes that for purposes of federal rights and benefits — for example, the question of whether a gay partner would be treated as a spouse for things like Social Security benefits — only a heterosexual marriage is recognized. But Obama already decided, in February, that his administration would not defend the constitutionality of DOMA in a federal court challenge, another clue as to the direction in which he has been evolving.

Here’s hoping he takes a clear stand on the underlying question.

Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 05/09/2012 - 10:53 am.


    What gets me is how extremely cynical this whole thing is. Does anyone doubt where Obama will stand on gay marriage come January of next year?

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 05/09/2012 - 12:26 pm.

      Cynical about Obama?Romney

      Cynical about Obama?

      Romney 1994, letter to Log Cabin Republicans:

      …. As a result of our discussions and other interactions with gay and lesbian voters across the state, I am more convinced than ever before that as we seek to establish full equality for America’s gay and lesbian citizens, I will provide more effective leadership than my opponent……One issue I want to clarify concerns President Clinton’s “don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue” military policy. I believe that the Clinton compromise was a step in the right direction. I am also convinced that it is the first of a number of steps that will ultimately lead to gays and lesbians being able to serve openly and honestly in our nation’s military. That goal will only be reached when preventing discrimination against gays and lesbians is a mainstream concern, which is a goal we share….

      • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 05/09/2012 - 03:23 pm.

        So I guess this means

        you’ll be supporting Romney, eh?

      • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 05/09/2012 - 04:41 pm.


        Back in ’94, questions about gay rights were first and foremost ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ and secondarily about things like discrimination when it came to hiring and renting. Gay marriage was not yet an issue and I don’t think it’s fair to suggest that Romney was signalling support for it back then. Reading through the rest of the page you linked, the only real possible change that I see is that he supported civil unions as an alternative to full marriage even though he doesn’t support civil unions generally.
        And really, how sad is it, that the only way the ‘Hope and Change’ President can look better in your mind is to compare him to Republicans? His slow evolution here was incredibly cynical and should be called out for that. Especially by gay marriage supporters from his own party.

  2. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 05/09/2012 - 12:10 pm.

    Honesty is the best policy

    Same-sex marriage lost in California and now in North Carolina thanks in large part to the black and hispanic voters who are culturally conservative and who oppose gay marriage.

    Obama’s in no hurry to turn his support for gay marriage into a campaign issue that would then become the subject of GOP campaign ads in black and hispanic precincts.

    Biden let the truth slip because he’s an idiot. But people aren’t voting for the vice presidential candidate, they’re voting for the presidential candidate and Obama has to try to get to November without losing any more of this natural constituency than he’s lost already because of his economic performance.

  3. Submitted by Rosalind Kohls on 05/09/2012 - 02:08 pm.

    Obama’s not fooling anyone

    President Obama is 100 percent for gay marriage and always has been. Gays know it, too. Otherwise gays would be protesting his administration non-stop. He’s not fooling anyone.

  4. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/09/2012 - 03:13 pm.


    Funny how some people are exactly sure what other people are thinking.
    In the case of Obama, I’m more concerned about his actions.
    Obama’s problem is that he is smart enough to know that most problems aren’t simple, and don’t have simple solutions (see Mencken).
    Unlike some people, he doesn’t seem to feel that he is channeling divine commandments, so his positions are not set in stone. As President, we are not just talking about his personal beliefs;
    we are talking about government actions taken in the context of existing and sometimes contradictory laws.
    And as Eric points out, the Federal government has little to do with marriage
    (and should have less).

  5. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/09/2012 - 03:19 pm.

    News Alert!

    from the NYT:

    Breaking News Alert
    The New York Times
    Wednesday, May 9, 2012 — 3:10 PM EDT

    Obama Tells ABC News Same-Sex Marriage Should Be Legal

    President Obama declared for the first time on Wednesday that he supports same-sex marriage, putting the moral power of his presidency behind a social issue that continues to divide the country.

    “At a certain point,” Mr. Obama said in an interview in the Cabinet Room at the White House with ABC’s Robin Roberts, “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.”

    The comments end years of public equivocating over the divisive social issue for the president, who has previously said he opposed gay marriage but repeatedly said he was “evolving” on the issue because of contact with friends and others who are gay.

  6. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 05/09/2012 - 04:20 pm.

    “…he’s an idiot…”

    Isn’t it interesting that an apparently truthful – if accidental – answer to a direct question gets a politician characterized as “…an idiot?”

    Beyond that, I’m inclined to agree with Rosalind Kohls. I’m not sure Obama is “for” gay marriage, but it seems apparent that he’s not opposed, else we’d have heard something in a speech at some point.

    Other than the “idiot” remark, much of Dennis Tester’s commentary seems pretty accurate. No candidate not trying to appeal to the mindless prejudices of the right wing is going to make same-sex marriage a front-burner issue if s/he can avoid it. Lots of people are cultural conservatives, and a vote is a vote is a vote.

    It remains a contest between the candidate of the 1 percent versus the candidate of the other 99 percent, no matter who marries whom. That Romney is tied with Obama in some recent polling, or even leading in some cases, is an indication of just how misinformed many Americans are about economic issues, much less social and/or constitutional ones.

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