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’
Remember when the candidate Obama defined marriage as a “sacred union” between a man and a woman? It will soon be a distant memory. When the president was on the campaign trail in 2008, he told CNN that “as a Christian” his definition of marriage was a strictly heterosexual one. Despite his support of civil unions, the would-be president said his view was that “God’s in the mix” of marriage, though he wouldn’t support a constitutional amendment defining marriage.
2010: ‘I Struggle With This’
In a poignant moment, the president opened up about his personal view of same-sex marriage during a press conference in 2010. Speaking in favor of a “baseline” civil union that would provide the same protections as marriage, Obama said he recognized why the difference in semantics mattered, thanks to his close gay and lesbian friends and colleagues. “I have people who work for me who are in powerful, strong, long-lasting gay or lesbian unions, and they are extraordinary people,” he said. Close, but not quite there.
2010: Do Ask, Do Tell
In his 2010 State of the Union address, the president said he would work to repeal the 1993 law that barred openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual people from serving in the military. And he did: in December of the same year, Obama signed a repeal of the law after an introduction by a beaming Joe Biden, naturally. “This law I’m about to sign will strengthen our national security and uphold the ideals that our fighting men and women risk their lives to defend,” he said to members of Congress and the military.
2011: ‘Gay Couples Deserve the Same Rights’
Has the president been hiding his real views on gay marriage all along? In a 2011 speech to LGBT donors, Obama said he staunchly supported equal rights for all—because he was “born that way.” Lady Gaga joke aside, the president touted his record on gay issues, including repealing DADT. “We’re going to keep on fighting until the law no longer treats committed partners … like they’re strangers,” he said. As for hecklers yelling “marriage” during the speech, the president quipped, “Believe it or not, I anticipated that somebody might ask.”
2012: ‘Same-Sex Couples Should Be Able to Get Married’
If only all of Joe Biden’s foot-in-mouth moments ended so well. After the vice president went rogue on Meet the Press and said he supported gay marriage, Obama ended a growing public debate over his views on Wednesday. In a historic interview on ABC, the president explained his hesitation before getting to the 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 said. The move could be politically risky, but the president’s not alone: polls indicate that 50 percent of American adults also support same-sex marriage. Yes we can…all get married?