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Obama evolves… President says he supports full marriage equality

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

President Obama ended his 19-month long evolution on the issue of extending marriage rights to gay couples on Wednesday when he voiced support for marriage equality.

In an interview with ABC News’ Robin Roberts, Obama endorsed marriage equality after he said he’s “stood on the side of broader equality for the LGBT community,” but “hesitated” on same-sex marriage because he thought “civil unions would be sufficient.”

“I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people the word marriage evokes very powerful traditions,” Obama said.

But after conversations with his own staff members, openly gay and lesbian service members, and discussions with his wife and daughters, Obama said he “just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

The president maintained his views are a personal position, and he still supports the concept of states deciding the issue of same-sex marriage on their own.


LGBT groups praised Obama for becoming the first sitting president to support same-sex marriage as he heads toward the general election.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said Obama “made history” by “boldly stating” gay Americans are entitled to equal rights and that those equal rights can only come through marriage.

“His presidency has shown that our nation can move beyond its shameful history of discrimination and injustice,” Solmonese said. “In him, millions of young Americans have seen that their futures will not be limited by what makes them different. In supporting marriage equality, President Obama extends that message of hope to a generation of young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, helping them understand that they too can be who they are and flourish as part of the American community.”

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, said Obama joins other figures, such as former President Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden in endorsing same-sex marriage.

“Through thought and conversation about these families and their dreams and challenges, President Obama has reflected on his own values of fairness and respect for others, and completed his journey to support for the freedom to marry,” Wolfson said. “He now becomes the first sitting president to join the majority of Americans whose hearts have opened and minds have changed in favor of the freedom to marry.”

In a sense, Obama’s support for same-sex marriage returns him to a position he stated on the issue in 1996 when running to become an Illinois state senator. In a questionnaire response to what is now the Windy City Times, Obama expressed support for same-sex marriage years before any state in the country legalized it.

“I favor legalizing same-sex marriage, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages,” Obama wrote in a typed letter with his signature at the bottom.

But that support for same-sex marriage vanished when Obama pursued higher office. In the 2008 election, Obama ran for president saying he supported civil unions as the way to extend legal protections to gay couples.

Then-candidate Obama articulated his views on marriage in August 2008 during a forum with pastor Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church, who has been criticized by the LGBT community for his support of California’s Proposition 8.

“I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman,” Obama said. “Now, for me as a Christian, it’s also a sacred union. God’s in the mix.”

The situation changed in October 2010. Obama said during an interview with progressive bloggers in response to a question from AMERICAblog’s Joe Sudbay that “attitudes evolve, including mine,” suggesting his views could change to support marriage equality.

But for 19 months the evolution continued. The Washington Blade repeatedly asked White House Press Secretary Jay Carney if Obama had completed his evolution, why he continues to withhold support for marriage equality and when the evolution would come to an end. Virtually every time, Carney responded that he didn’t have any updates to the Blade inquiries.

In June 2010, Obama’s views on marriage made headlines again when New York was set to legalize same-sex marriage and Obama was going to appear at a high-profile LGBT fundraiser. Asked about his views on marriage when New York last year legalized same-sex marriage during a news conference, the president said he wasn’t going to make news. That was the same line he gave most recently when asked about the subject in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine.

“I’m not going to make news in this publication,” Obama said. “I’ve made clear that the issue of fairness and justice and equality for the LGBT community is very important to me. And I haven’t just talked about it, I’ve acted on it.”

Even though the president had withheld support for marriage equality, Obama has spoken out through a campaign spokesperson against anti-gay marriage ballot initiatives pending before voters in Minnesota and North Carolina, which was approved by voters Tuesday. Obama’s announced support for marriage equality comes after the vote in that state.

The president’s endorsement of same-sex marriage comes as the media have given greater scrutiny to his views and the seeming contradiction of not supporting same-sex marriage, but supporting equal rights for LGBT people.

On Sunday during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Vice President Joe Biden said he’s “absolutely comfortable” with married gay couples having the “exact same rights” as straight couples.

Media outlets and bloggers reported that Biden’s comments were an endorsement of same-sex marriage and that the vice president had become the highest-ranking official to support marriage rights for gay couples.

But the vice president’s office issued a clarification immediately afterward saying Biden, like Obama, is still “evolving” on same-sex marriage.

Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod attempted to mitigate the flurry of media attention that was unleashed following Biden’s remarks, first in a message via Twitter, then telling reporters in a conference call Monday that Biden and Obama were in line.

“I think that they were entirely consistent with the president’s position, which is that couples who are married — whether gay or heterosexual couples — are entitled to the very same rights and very same liberties,” Axelrod said.

On Monday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney faced a barrage of questions on Biden’s remarks and Obama’s views on same-sex marriage. Why does the president oppose same-sex marriage? If everyone thinks the president supports same-sex marriage, why doesn’t he endorse it?

Carney replied with answers he’s given previously: the president’s record on LGBT issues is noteworthy and substantial; he has no updates on Obama’s personal views; Biden’s belief that the rights of citizens should be protected is consistent with the president’s view.

“I think the president is the right person to describe his own personal views,” Carney said, “He, as you know, said that his views on this were evolving, and I don’t have an update for you on that.”

© Washington Blade. Reprinted by permission.

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50 more reader comments:

  1. Im all for it, but is it just a ploy for votes?

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:01pm
  2. Obama had 4 years to back the gay community and didn’t, but NOW?? Cause he needs our votes to keep his ass in office. Sorry if this offends anyone, but I been waiting 4 years to have my rights, but NOW since he’s afraid to lose the election, he wants US to back him, HMMM! Some of us are smarter than that. If I have the right to marry the same sex before November, then he might get my vote.

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:02pm
  3. I am glad Obama is on OUR SIDE…he supports it! I wish he can put his foot down and say “the hell with what the house says!” What I say GOES!!! Wauy to go Obama!

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:02pm
  4. Not this again. It was always in his agenda, even before he was elected.

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:03pm
  5. So Randy, if we don’t have the right to marry before November who are you going to vote for? Romney? Who has promised he will work towards an amendment to define marriage as one man and one woman? You didn’t offend me, but really, what’s the other option when it comes to LGBT rights?

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:03pm
  6. I am indifferent to the timing or the motive….this man has balls and stood for equality. This could hurt him because radical right groups will mobilize on the “War on Marriage” so I think that since Im sure he knows this and hes taking a huge risk with that, I can believe he is sincere in his words.

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:03pm
  7. After two members of the Cabinet said they were for it, his Press Sec towed the familiar line and then, 2 days later, he is for it. I don’t believe he or any of these politicians are doing what is good for the people. It is time for People to take their power and fire them all. Occupy DC and we won’t go home until we have a new government.

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:04pm
  8. Randy, not that I don’t hear your frustration, but you’d rather vote for Mitt Romney, who currently is not only against same-sex marriage, but also against civil unions? Or stay away from the polls?

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:04pm
  9. Randy — Are you saying you’d rather vote Republican and ensure that there is no same-sex marriage for another 4 years?

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:04pm
  10. He’s just saying that to get your vote!!!!!

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:04pm
  11. So Randy, you’ll vote for Mitt marriage = one man and one woman Romney out of spite?

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:05pm
  12. he supports gay marriage and he shuts down marijuana dispensaries…. wow…. i am pro equality. marry whoever makes u happy… and im also pro prop 215 and i dont even smoke…

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:06pm
  13. Yes, this is great news to have a president in office support same sex marriages and we know that reaffirms that he would get the LGBT vote. However in most cases he had that during the last election and based on the Republican Platform he would have kept the gay vote regardless, but lets look at the ramifications of all this.
    He did have straight supporters that might back away from such a radical and defining endorsement, thus he might have lost some voters as well. We also know that the Catholic Church denounces same sex marriage and views it formally as a sin against the church and God . . . will the devout Catholics be told not to support Obama for his position and outward declaration of his support of same sex marriages . . .will they listen?

    The LGBT Community will be under the watchful eye of past and present straight Obama supporters that might be rather split on their feelings about same sex marriages. They may be looking at all of us for the very first time with much greater intensity. Based on what they see and hear may determine how they might vote.

    So with that said and with International Pride Month approaching we need to think how we want and should appear in the eyes of the US Voters .

    Also keep in mind that Obama expressed his support of same sex marriages, but did say that he feels that it should be up to each state.

    Just some food for thought at this time.
    ~ Laurie ~ 05.09.12

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:08pm
  14. I’ll believe it when i see it on paper..

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:08pm
  15. Such negative people. If it’s just a “ploy for votes”, why didn’t he do it to get elected in the first place? Have we forgotten his first message? HOPE and CHANGE. He’s done far more for the LGBT community than either Bush did- you would think we could be thankful instead of sitting around BITCHING about it.

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:08pm
  16. No Nancy, I don’t like him either. I just want my rights just like the next.

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:08pm
  17. I think all of us want our rights just like the next…but turning on those who are on our side just because they took “too long” to be on our side doesn’t help us at all…

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:11pm
  18. Randy Calloway, maybe you are one that does not pay attention to changes made during President Obama’s term, but here is a graph you might be able to read.

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:11pm
  19. live and let live……..

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:11pm
  20. All these negtive thoughts..yes it might have taken him 4 yrs to do it..but hell at least it’s done right?? That should be all that matters.

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:11pm
  21. dats wat im tlkin bout go head OBAMA. give us wat we need

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:13pm
  22. I’m really glad that he’s come forward as supportive, but I fear it means he won’t be re-elected.

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:13pm
  23. ya cuz its almost election time, tho i am all for equality.

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:13pm
  24. Gay marriage doesn’t hurt ANYONE, so why are people hating on it? It won’t make the sun explode or murder all the puppies in the world. So there’s no reason it should be illegal.

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:13pm
  25. He isnt doing this now because he needs our votes. Or at least, thats not the only reason. Much of the gay population already voted democratically. He states this now near the END of his term because exclaiming this earlier would have made it a lot harder for him be efficient. He’s saying this now because the consequences for him are less and his ability to run the country effectively would have been diminished earlier on.

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:13pm
  26. It was time…

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:14pm
  27. It’s not done yet Sarah, I don’t believe it will ever happen as long as I live.

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:15pm
  28. We’ll get more from him then the alternative so quit complaining my godddd, and yeah I do believe he’s done more than anyone else ever has!! I’m all for voting for him cause I do believe he will get the job done

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:18pm
  29. why didn’t he say it before now? I won’t be voting for him again. Ron Paul looks more appealing- despite his age.

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:21pm
  30. Wo a ruling from the US Suprueme Court, there is little Obama can adversly do. The Constitution does NOT give the Federal Government say here. Y states right rules. Bush tried to make this against Federal law. He even went so far as to sugguest a Constitutional amendment; the courts would have to obey. This is far from over, and not going to happen for atleast another year. IF the Suprume Court takes it next term, it would be this time next year when they rule.

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:22pm
  31. I cannot believe such negativity on an historic achievement. This is advancement. Another chink in the wall. Be happy!

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:31pm
  32. Recognizing is different from Encouraging. Still this counts another step forward.

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:38pm
  33. sealed the deal for my vote (again)

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:39pm
  34. It is a historic issue, but Obama is playing politics. That is the concern of many. And everyone needs to know & understand all sides & the PAINFUL, UNPLEASANT TRUTH here. When something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Everything has a catch.

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:39pm
  35. He’s just doing it for the votes, plain and simple.

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:41pm
  36. And y did he refuse to sign an Executive Order banning LGBT workplace discrimination? To me, individual equality & protection need to come first. I lost a job for being me.

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:41pm
  37. YAY OBAMA!! :-D

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:44pm
  38. He’s just all talk he hasn’t helped us the 4 yrs he was in office!!!!!! Just wants us to vote for him

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:51pm
  39. <3

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:53pm
  40. He has avoided taking a stand on any gay issues. (He wouldn’t comment on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell until a Republican and Independent teamed up and made it happen in the Senate. Once it passed, then he supported it). He’s been giving the political answer for awhile “evolving” and when he’s having trouble rallying his voting base, he comes out and says something to gain the support of the community. I think it’s totally political and insincere.

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:58pm
  41. Idk what to believe Im conflicted :( I would always hope for the best thats all you ever can do In Obama We Trust

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 7:00pm
  42. He seems to be evolving into a Republican as well, wanting to continue tax cuts, for example.

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 7:29pm
  43. He does NOT. I am sick and tired of everyone jumping on the bandwagon and celebrating. He says he personally supports it, but plans to do nothing about it federally. He states that the states should decide. WOW HOW PROGRESSIVE! No! Absolutely not. How is that any different than what’s going on now? How will that benefit anything? Look at North Carolina! Obama is perfectly fine with allowing that to happen. Fuck him.

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 7:35pm
  44. Now get it done. Don’t let it be election rhetoric.

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 7:36pm
  45. Funny how at the start of his term he was against it and now its close to voting time and all of the sudden he is for it. Really how fake can you get Obama…

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 7:57pm
  46. Let’s let it be a voting issue. I believe the President did take a chance on losing votes when talked about marriage equality so close to election. We should run with it now because there is a lot of opposition. Get out there and vote for Obama! We need all the votes we can get. Vote for common sense, a separation of church and state, and equal rights under the law. Register – vote – win in 2012.

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 7:58pm
  47. Hell yes!!!

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 8:38pm
  48. Obama can’t just make anything into law he want. These things take time, all he can do is be our voice at this point and help lawmakers to see that we deserve the same rights as everyone else. In my opinion any step towards equality, be it big or small or what the motivation may be, it is significant and worth celebrating.

    Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 9:35pm
  49. Finally, Better late then never!! Now I’ll vote for second term!

    Posted on Thursday, May 10, 2012 at 4:24am
  50. Personally the president wants same sex marriage because married couples pay more taxes. Politically he will do nothing and will leave it up to the states. Which side of his mouth will he speak out of today?

    Posted on Thursday, May 10, 2012 at 4:44am