The president’s bold support shifted the mainstream. Andrew Sullivan on why it shouldn't be surprising—Obama’s life as a biracial man has deep ties to the gay experience.
The president’s support of gay marriage is historic, even if he’s only admitting publicly what he always believed privately. But talk is cheap, says Meghan McCain—to make a real leap, he should put his support behind legislation.
At long last, President Obama has finally come clean to the American public about his support for gay marriage. Is this something of notable and historical significance? Of course it is. Even if Obama was motivated by politics and feeling pressured after Vice President Biden’s recent public support for gay marriage, it is still significant. Even if Obama was lying about his true feelings about gay marriage until this point—yes, even then it retains some significance. After all, this is the first time in American history a sitting president has voiced any kind of support for two men or two women having the right to marry in America.
Carolyn Kaster / AP Photos
That being said, let’s not forget talk is cheap. I hate to rain on anyone’s parade or burst the enthusiasm bubble, but talk is especially cheap during an election season. Gay marriage is not an issue Obama ever felt was politically expedient to address honestly until Wednesday. His official stance was that his opinion was continuing to “evolve,” even though he had a history of supporting gay marriage prior to his run for president.
And in his interview with ABC, he made it clear that he still considers gay marriage a states' rights issue. So for supporters who would like to see it passed in all 50 states, unfortunately, this is probably the furthest Obama is going to go in his public support for gay marriage. More than likely, he is not going to do anything from here. If he really were committed to gay marriage, from here on out he should explore ways to make it legal in every state in America.
For those of us who support gay marriage in America and believe it to be a civil rights issue rather than a political issue, not as much progress has just been made as it may seem. A culture war is still raging in America. Only a little more than half of the American public supports gay marriage, and Obama has probably given the gay community what they want in publicly endorsing it, even if he is not likely to support or promote any legislation that would make it legal in all 50 states.
President Obama announces his support for gay marriage
When you get right down to it, Obama is still playing it safe. He has merely confirmed something many people already assumed he believed but for whatever political reason did not feel he could publicly admit. It’s not really a great leap for the gay rights movement in this country, but merely a half step—one that may assuage his detractors in his liberal base but will not achieve much else.
Let’s not kid ourselves about the work left to be done. Gay marriage is still an unpopular issue in many places in America, and 30 states have amendments in their constitution banning it. Instead of putting his power and support behind legislation that would make gay marriage legal, Obama merely voiced his opinion in an interview. It’s not really leadership so much as finally copping publicly to something he believed privately. Is that enough for the gay community and supporters of gay marriage in America? Only time will tell. I, for one, am dissatisfied with half steps. I hoped for a leap from our president.
Vice President Biden torpedoed the White House plan to endorse gay marriage before the Democratic convention. Howard Kurtz on how political and media pressure forced the president’s hand.
It was more than a year ago, administration and campaign officials say, that President Obama decided to abandon his posture of sympathetic neutrality and personally embrace same-sex marriage. The only question was when.
President Barack Obama speaks to the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies dinner Tuesday, May 8, 2012, in Washington. (Carolyn Kaster / AP Photo)
Wednesday unexpectedly became the day. “I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” the president said in an interview with ABC News.
The declaration was not supposed to come this week. Instead, the White House had planned to dramatically unveil the shift shortly before the Democratic convention. But Obama had been agitated by Vice President Joe Biden’s own endorsement of gay marriage on Sunday, which knocked the White House off what was supposed to be its message this week—student loans and economic issues.
The president expressed his frustration to West Wing officials—some of whom questioned whether Biden had wandered off script or was trying to foster a change in policy—but Obama didn’t take up the issue with his No. 2. Asked about Biden's role in prodding him, Obama acknowledged to ABC "that I would have preferred to do it in my own time, on my own terms."
At first, the administration beat a strategic retreat, trying to walk back Biden’s comments and defuse the controversy. But that approach quickly faltered in the face of growing pressure and media scrutiny.
As reporters badgered his press secretary on how Obama could say he was still “evolving” on the hot-button issue while his vice president had taken a stand, the president decided the moment had arrived.
“If you’re looking to strike while the iron is hot, you could say the iron had been warmed up,” says a Democrat with close ties to the White House.
First he was against same-sex marriage. Then he ‘struggled’ with the issue. Now he endorses it. From his earliest statements to his latest interview, WATCH VIDEO of President Obama talking about gay marriage.
2004: ‘I Don’t Think Marriage Is a Civil Right’
It took the president nearly a decade to come out in support of gay marriage—and the evolution has been televised. At a debate for Illinois Senate candidates in 2004, Obama said he didn’t support same-sex marriage because when heterosexual couples marry, they “are performing something before God”—and marriage itself isn’t a right, anyway. The then-candidate clarified this view with the wishy-washy rhetoric that has characterized his stance on the issue until Wednesday: “I think not being discriminated against is a civil right.” Call it mixed signals.
2007: A ‘Strong Supporter’ of Civil Unions
Sometimes a joke can work in your favor; other times it just falls flat. In a 2007 interview, the president’s wisecrack might have done the latter. “When you’re a black guy named Barack Obama, you know what it’s like to be on the outside,” the president quipped in an appearance on Logo, a TV network aimed at a gay audience. Citing the government’s responsibility to treat all citizens equally, Obama threw his support behind civil unions and voiced his opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act. “I’m a strong supporter not of a weak version of civil unions, but of a strong version,” he said. A small step for civil rights, a giant leap for a presidential candidate.
2008: ‘Between a Man and a Woman’
Obama finally stopped ducking the question of same-sex marriage on Wednesday. Michael Daly on how Ted Kennedy—and even Osama bin Laden—helped the president finally reclaim the watchword that got him elected.
In his private study at the White House, President Obama keeps a painting signed “Ted K” in the lower right corner.
Pete Souza / The White House
“A Cape Cod seascape that was a gift to a freshman legislator who had just arrived in Washington and happened to admire it when Ted Kennedy welcomed him into his office,” Obama recalled during the eulogy he delivered at Sen. Edward Kennedy’s funeral.
On the back of the painting, Kennedy had made an inscription to the then freshman senator from Illinois. It included what had seemed to be Obama’s watchword.
“To Barack—I love your audacity.”
Kennedy had become only more admiring after the author of The Audacity of Hope was so audacious as to run for president. The endorsement by Kennedy and his niece, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, made Obama a real contender.
Had Kennedy not been so ill by the time of the election and he not finally succumbed so soon afterward, he surely would have offered the wisdom of Camelot’s sole survivor to this other handsome young president who took office speaking of hope and change. Kennedy no doubt would have counseled Obama that above all, he should not forget the watchword that got him to the White House in the first place.
Instead, Obama sometimes seemed to forget the word altogether as he grappled with the forces of nope. He too often appeared to be less than the person his admirers elected without becoming any more palatable to those who opposed him with such unreasoning vehemence.
Conservative leaders both mocked Obama’s official gay-marriage support on Wednesday as stating the obvious—and seized it as a shiny new weapon for defeating the president, reports David Sessions.
When President Obama dropped his gay-marriage bomb Wednesday, the religious right and gay-marriage supporters found themselves in the unusual position of having the same reaction: finally, Obama is admitting what he’s been signaling he believes all along. But while supporters greeted the news with celebratory tears, opponents mocked the announcement with a resounding “duh.”
Rick Santorum weighed in on Obama's announcement supporting gay marriage by saying, “President Obama has consistently fought against protecting the institution of marriage from radical social engineering at both the state and federal level.” (Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
The right’s notion that a presidential endorsement of gay marriage would mean little more than stating the obvious had been circling since the weekend, when Vice President Joe Biden told Meet the Press that he was "comfortable" with same-sex unions. Just hours before Obama’s announcement, conservative blogger Rod Dreher wrote, “Of course Obama is officially against same-sex marriage, but nobody with a lick of sense believes that this is true.” On Tuesday, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, a conservative Catholic who opposes gay marriage, expressed a similar sentiment: “It seems a little strange that the president is so unwilling to acknowledge what every non-delusional Washington observer believes to be the case—that like his voluble vice-president, he is part of the emerging pro-same-sex-marriage majority, rather than the opponent that he still officially pretends to be.”
With Obama’s nod of support, the stance quickly dominated conservative conversation.
“The President’s announcement today that he supports legalizing same-sex marriage finally brings his words in sync with his actions,” said Family Research Council president Tony Perkins. “From opposing state marriage amendments to refusing to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act to giving taxpayer funded marriage benefits to same-sex couples, the President has undermined the spirit if not the letter of the law.”
Rick Santorum also used the opportunity to remind his supporters that the president’s announcement was anticlimactic. “The announcement today by President Obama should come as no surprise to the American public,” Santorum said in a statement. “President Obama has consistently fought against protecting the institution of marriage from radical social engineering at both the state and federal level.”
And yet, despite downplaying the momentousness of Obama’s turn, political leaders on the religious right seemed to salivate at the opportunity to call him an explicit gay-marriage supporter. Across media, they almost unanimously predicted that marriage will become a hot-button issue in the presidential campaign, and one that they can use to their advantage.
Maggie Gallagher, the president of the National Organization for Marriage and one of the most outspoken foes of gay marriage, told the evangelical World magazine: “Politically, we welcome this. We think it’s a huge mistake.” Meanwhile, the conservative activist Ralph Reed called it “an unanticipated gift to the Romney campaign.”
Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage is the latest step in the modern fight for gay rights in America, which began with the Stonewall riots in 1969. From Ellen DeGeneres coming out to the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ WATCH VIDEO of key moments.
1969: Stonewall Riots and the Beginning of the Modern Gay-Rights Movement
Enough is enough. On June 28, 1969, a group of gay men in downtown New York City rioted in a show of force against police harassment. The rallying point was the Stonewall Inn, a bar in Greenwich Village. The grievances were many: not just police harassment, but laws against displaying homosexual behavior in public. To commemorate the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots, supporters held the first Gay Pride march in United States history. The pride parade is now an annual celebration in New York and several other cities around the U.S. Below is the trailer for the 2010 documentary Stonewall Uprising, which took a look at the events.
1977: Harvey Milk’s History-Making Election
In 1977 Harvey Milk became the first openly gay man elected to public office in California. Deemed a visionary by many, Milk championed gay rights until his assassination in 1978. Even in death, Milk’s crusade has not been forgotten. Gus Van Sant chronicled his life in the 2008 film Milk, and the following year, President Obama awarded Milk the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contribution to the gay-rights movement.
1997: Life After Ellen
Ellen DeGeneres didn’t just come out of the closet once, she came out twice. In 1997 the actress revealed that she was gay in a groundbreaking cover story for Time magazine. Following an interview on Oprah, DeGeneres also revealed that the character she played on her sitcom, Ellen, also would be coming out of the closet. Although it was just 15 years ago, many credit DeGeneres for putting a face on the lesbian community and removing the stigma on homosexuality in mainstream culture.
Obama threw his personal support behind same-sex marriage on Wednesday, but 30 U.S. states still ban it. From Canada to Portugal, The Daily Beast finds 10 nations that allow gay couples to legally tie the knot.
Obama’s comments in support of legalizing gay marriage may have created a small firestorm of political and cultural reactions in the United States on Wednesday, but same-sex unions have been legal for more than a decade in some nations.
There are 10 countries in which gay marriage is legal. The Parliament of The Netherlands, which passed a bill legalizing same sex marriage by a 3-to-1 margin in 2001, was the first national government body to pass national legislation. Since then, another nine countries have followed suit. As well, legislation is pending in some eight nations, including Finland and Australia, and civil unions or some form of gay parnerships are legal in more than 20 countries. See which countries are more proactive than the U.S.
Year Legalized: 2001
Year Legalized: 2003
Year Legalized: 2005
Year Legalized: 2005
Year Legalized: 2006
Year Legalized: 2009
Conservative legal scholar Ted Olson, who teamed with Bush v. Gore rival David Boies to fight Prop 8, talks to John Avlon about Obama’s new support for gay marriage, North Carolina’s new ban—and whether the Supreme Court will weigh in.
It has been a historic 24 hours, with marriage equality rejected in North Carolina and embraced by the president of the United States.
“I am gratified that the president has thrown his personal support and the authority of the presidency behind the goal of justice, equality, and decency for all citizens,” said Ted Olson, founder of the Federalist Society and former Bush administration solicitor general.
Olson gained fame for his pioneering partnership with David Boies, his one-time professional rival in Bush v. Gore who joined with him to argue that California’s Prop 8 gay-marriage ban is unconstitutional.
I called Olson on Wednesday to get the conservative legal leader’s take on the North Carolina gay-marriage ban at the ballot and the way it sets up a Supreme Court showdown, possibly as early as 2013—no matter who is president.
Olson has stern words for his fellow conservatives who flooded the polls on Tuesday, making North Carolina the 30th state to enshrine a ban on gay marriage in its state constitution.
“It is very sad to me that people who belong to the party of Abraham Lincoln are resisting so strenuously the equality and decency and integrity and treatment of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters,” Olson said. “This seems to be one of the last major civil-rights battles of our country. And for people in our country to come out in numbers like this and say, ‘Well, we don’t want the persons next door—who are decent, God-fearing, taxpaying, obeying-the-law citizens who simply want to have happiness like the rest of us’—to say ‘No, I have that right and you can’t have it.’ That just seems mean to me.”
Ted Olson, a former Bush solicitor general, is arguing in favor of same-sex marriage, (Jahi Chikwendiu / The Washington Post via Getty Images)
The rollback of civil unions and domestic partnerships in North Carolina is a particular legal red flag to Olson. “This is a law, like California, that withdraws existing rights from people based upon their sexual orientation,” he said. “It withdraws rights and privileges that gay and lesbian citizens have had in North Carolina for some time now. That is one of the bases on which the Ninth Circuit specifically struck down Proposition 8.”
The president endorsed gay marriage on Wednesday—but took pains to stress his position as a personal one. That means official action on the statement won’t necessarily follow, says Harry Siegel.
As President Obama sought to bring his lengthy “evolution” position on the issue on gay marriage to an end Wednesday in an interview with ABC, the network’s chyron proclaimed: Obama Officially Affirms Gay Marriage Support. But the president’s remarks were carefully couched as anything but official.
While same-sex marriage advocates were mostly united in their praise of “a historic turning point,” Obama took care to present his position as a personal one—and not one that would necessarily trigger any official action in his roles as president and head of the Democratic Party.
“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,” Obama told Robin Roberts (emphases mine).
“The president stressed that this is a personal position, and that he still supports the concept of states’ [sic] deciding the issue on their own,” reported ABC, which has aired excerpts of the interview but has yet to release it in full.
Thirty states have constitutional amendments banning gay marriage, while six states and Washington, D.C., legally recognize them. Obama’s interview came a day after North Carolinians overwhelmingly passed a state constitutional amendment barring not just same-sex marriages but civil unions.
It remains unclear what, if anything, Obama’s personal embrace of same-sex marriage will mean in his roles as president, and head of the Democratic Party. While prominent Democrats have called for the national party to add a plank in support of gay marriage to its platform at the convention in Charlotte in September, senior administration officials declined to tell the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein whether Obama would now push for a gay-marriage plan at the convention. The officials also said the president stood by his position that he would not sign an executive order banning discrimination against federal contractors on the basis of sexual orientation.
Saul Loeb, AFP / Getty Images
“[B]y endorsing a ‘states’ rights’ approach to same-sex marriage, Obama essentially preserves the current status quo in which a handful of states recognize same-sex marriage and many states have constitutional bans against them,” wrote Nation editor Richard Kim. “That is not marriage equality, and does not even reach the standard Obama previously embraced of equal rights and recognitions.”
The president said in 1996 that he would support legalizing gay marriage, and 16 years later became the first Oval Office holder to do just that. Michelle Goldberg on how Obama didn’t just do the right thing—he did the smart thing, as well.
It took about five minutes after President Obama made his historic announcement of support for gay marriage for the snark to begin. Some people pointed out that he’d simply reverted to the position he held in 1996, when, in response to a questionnaire from a gay newspaper in Chicago, he wrote, “I favor legalizing same-sex marriage, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.” Others noted that he still believes the matter should be left to the states, suggesting acquiescence to North Carolina’s egregious Amendment 1 and other gay-marriage bans. The Log Cabin Republicans, straining to minimize the importance of the president’s statement, attacked him for only belatedly coming “in line with leaders like Vice President Dick Cheney on this issue.”
None of this should obscure the fact that when Obama told ABC News, “I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” it was, to quote Joe Biden, “a big fucking deal.”
Our last Democratic president, Bill Clinton, signed the antigay Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), saying then, “I have long opposed governmental recognition of same-gender marriages, and this legislation is consistent with that position.” Eight years ago, George W. Bush’s vehement opposition to gay marriage helped carry him to reelection against liberal John Kerry. If Obama’s pro-gay-rights supporters tolerated his nominal opposition to equal marriage rights, it was largely because, until very recently, many assumed that any candidate with a different position would be unelectable on a national scale. It’s hard to think of any other civil-rights issue where so much progress was made so fast.
To criticize Obama for following that progress rather than leading it is to misunderstand the nature of political change. No president forces major social advancements by himself. FDR understood that when he responded to entreaties from the labor leader A. Philip Randolph by agreeing and then saying, “Now go out and make me do it.” Lyndon Johnson didn’t pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act until the civil-rights movement changed public opinion and the shock of John F. Kennedy’s assassination altered political dynamics. Presidents have to balance strategic political concerns with moral ones. They can encourage and ratify progress, but they can’t create it.
Brendan Smialowski, AFP / Getty Images
The fact that Obama’s gay-marriage evolution was motivated as much by practical concerns as by idealism doesn’t make it any less remarkable. Rather, it’s a sign of how successful the gay rights movement has been in organizing and demonstrating the justice of its cause, turning what was once a wedge issue for the right into a potential wedge issue for the left. It’s also a sign of how much progress on gay rights had already been made during Obama’s presidency. Gay marriage wouldn’t have been thrown into such sharp focus if he hadn’t already ended "don’t ask, don’t tell" and refused to enforce DOMA. It made sense for Obama to end the charade of opposing gay marriage because nobody on either side believed his position was sincere. If the rest of his record hadn’t been so pro-gay, though, they might have.
While certainly politically calculated, Obama’s announcement is not without risk. After all, North Carolina, a state the president hopes to win in November, just voted overwhelmingly to strip gay unions of any recognition whatsoever. A majority of Democrats and a smaller majority of independents are on Obama’s side, but he has just energized social conservatives in a way that Mitt Romney alone never could. His move required a bit of audacity as well as practicality.
Still, it will probably help him much more than it hurts him, by thrilling many of his supporters, throwing Romney’s reaction into higher relief, and ending the painful linguistic contortions necessary to justify his previous untenable position. That should take nothing away from his statement’s importance. Real change happens when social movements convince leaders that doing the right thing needn’t conflict with doing the smart thing. Today, Obama did both.
The president drops a political bombshell by siding with gays on a culturally divisive issue. Howard Kurtz on the risks for Obama—and the challenge facing Romney.
Barack Obama’s evolution is complete.
Kristoffer Tripplaar, Pool / Getty Images
The president of the United States has just endorsed gay marriage—putting him not just in stark opposition to Mitt Romney but to Americans who firmly oppose it and have defeated every state referendum designed to legalize it.
Obama made the declaration to ABC News just three days after Joe Biden said he was “absolutely comfortable” with men marrying men and women marrying women—which prompted some administration officials to suggest the vice president was freelancing and that his remarks had not been cleared in advance.
While Obama insisted he was speaking personally, rather than mounting a campaign to change state laws: "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,” Obama told ABC’s Robin Roberts. The full interview will appear on Thursday’s Good Morning America, with excerpts Wednesday evening on World News.
At the risk of resorting to hyperbole, this is a political earthquake that shakes the landscape by putting a divisive culture-war issue front and center. The betting had been that while Biden and others would signal support on a wink-wink basis, Obama would play it safe and take no position until after the election.
President Obama endorses same-sex marriage.
This was no slip of the tongue; Obama intended to make news when his staff hastily arranged the interview.
The president said in 1996 that he would support legalizing gay marriage, and 16 years later became the first Oval Office holder to do just that, writes Michelle Goldberg.
In a major policy shift Wednesday, President Obama told ABC News’s Robin Roberts that ‘same-sex couples should be able to get married.’ The move marked the first time a sitting president has thrown his support behind gay marriage and the end of Obama's self-described 'evolution' on the issue.
As the debate over gay marriage rages, what marriages and weddings really mean. By David Jefferson.
As same-sex couples march down the aisle in N.Y., Andrew Sullivan reflects on his own pursuit of happiness.
From Canada to Portugal, 10 countries that allow same-sex couples to legally tie the knot.