Main | Monday, August 23, 2010

Obama's Shifting View On Gay Marriage

Over at the New Republic, James Downie has posted an excellent timeline of President Obama's evolving positions on same-sex marriage. I'm excerpting Downie's piece below, but do go read the entire article.

1996: "I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages."

1998: "Undecided." (Candidate poll response.)

2004: "Strategically, I think we can get civil unions passed. I think that to the extent that we can get the rights, I'm less concerned about the name."

2006: "I believe that American society can choose to carve out a special place for the union of a man and a woman as the unit of child rearing most common to every culture. "

2007: "If I were advising the civil rights movement back in 1961 about its approach to civil rights, I would have probably said it’s less important that we focus on an anti-miscegenation law than we focus on a voting rights law and a non-discrimination and employment law and all the legal rights that are conferred by the state."

2008: "I have stated my opposition to [Prop 8]. I think it is unnecessary. I believe that marriage is between a man and woman and I am not in favor of gay marriage, but when you're playing around with constitutions, just to prohibit somebody who cares about another person, it just seems to me that that is not what America is about."

2010: "He does oppose same-sex marriage, but he supports equality for gay and lesbian couples. He supports civil unions. That’s been his position throughout. So nothing has changed." (White House adviser David Alexrod responding to the overturn of Prop 8.)

Partially in response to the above article, New Republic senior editor Richard Just today published a demand that the president get onboard with marriage equality. From his essay titled Disgrace, which compares Obama's position on same-sex marriage to that of President Woodrow Wilson's recalcitrance in supporting women's suffrage:
The final lesson from Wilson is that what a president says and does matters. The day after Wilson’s January 9 statement, the House endorsed women’s suffrage by two votes. Wilson, albeit years late to the cause, would go on to lobby senators and, eventually, the governor of Tennessee, which became the final state to ratify the nineteenth amendment. Obama, meanwhile, seems to have convinced himself that he can’t make a difference on gay marriage, so why wade into the issue? But, while he may not realize it, Obama is already leading on gay marriage; he is just leading in the wrong direction. Every time Obama or a surrogate reiterates his position, it reinforces the idea that gay marriage is a bit too scary for the political mainstream. Worse, Obama’s stance seems to be a way of conveying to the country that he knows a lot of people still aren’t completely comfortable admitting gays and lesbians as full participants in American life, and that this is OK because he isn’t either. It is about the most cynical gesture you can imagine from an allegedly liberal leader—and we deserve better. I am speaking to you as an American, Mr. Obama.

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