WASHINGTON — When President Barack Obama praised the U.S. Supreme Court’s watershed same-sex marriage ruling, he held it up as evidence that a “shift in hearts and minds is possible.”
Obama may well have been describing his own public trajectory on gay unions – a complicated path that took him through opposition and ambivalence to enthusiastic embrace.
His journey is not unlike the rest of America. But over the years he has worn his uncertainty on his sleeve, publicly musing about his stance before becoming a full-throated advocate for marriage and other aspects of gay rights.
“When all Americans are treated as equal, we are all more free,” Obama declared Friday.
As far as political figures go, Obama’s road to “yes” is hardly unique.
Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign jumped on the Supreme Court decision, changing its red campaign logo to a rainbow colored H, releasing a gauzy video of gay wedding ceremonies, and blasting out supportive tweets aimed at building its campaign list.
In a fiery speech Friday night to Democratic party activists in Northern Virginia, Clinton said that “love triumphed in the highest court” and declared: “We can sum up the message from the court and the American people in just two words: Move on.”
But like Obama, such expressions of support mark a remarkable shift for Clinton, who opposed gay marriage for more than two decades as a first lady, a U.S. senator and a presidential candidate. Just three months ago, Clinton’s position was that while she personally supported gay marriage the issue was best left for individual states to decide – a policy stance held by most of the Republican party presidential field.
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Obama has carefully staked out his position on same-sex marriage throughout his political career. During his 1996 Illinois state Senate race, he replied to a questionnaire from a gay newspaper in Chicago: “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.” Two years later, he declared himself undecided.
By 2004, as he ran for the U.S. Senate, he said he opposed gay marriage for politically strategic reasons, saying Republicans would exploit the issue, and he advocated instead for gay civil unions.
In his 2006 book, “The Audacity of Hope,” he cited his own faith as a reason to oppose same-sex marriage, though he also wondered whether “in years hence I may be seen as someone who was on the wrong side of history.”