Obama Didn’t Lie in 2008 About Marriage being Between a Man and a Woman
Obama came out [no pun intended] publicly in favor of gay marriage in May 2012 right after his Vice President came out in favor of gay marriage. I don’t know that anyone knows when or whether Obama would have come out but for the warm reception Biden’s gaffe received. Obama reported to the public that his views on gay marriage changed after “the evolution that I went through” and since he campaigned against gay marriage.
Police aide David Axelrod has a new book that reportedly says Barak Obama views did not evolve on gay marriage as he claimed. Instead, he says, Obama was for gay marriage all along:
Opposition to gay marriage was particularly strong in the black church, and as he ran for higher office, he grudgingly accepted the counsel of more pragmatic folks like me, and modified his position to support civil unions rather than marriage, which he would term a ‘sacred union.’
Obama repeatedly stated the claim that he believed marriage was between a man and a woman through his campaign. I’m unable to find how many times he said it, but I think that likely means it was more than a hundred times in different venues.
Obama says Axelrod is confused, however:
Well, you know, I think David is mixing up my personal feelings with my position on the issue. I always felt that same-sex couples should be able to enjoy the same rights, legally, as anybody else, and so it was frustrating to me not to, I think, be able to square that with what were a whole bunch of religious sensitivities out there. So my thinking at the time was that civil unions — which I always supported — was a sufficient way of squaring the circle. That, OK, we won’t call it “marriage,” we’ll call it “civil unions,” same-sex couples will have the same rights as anybody else, but the word “marriage” with its religious connotations historically would be preserved for marriages between men and women. Where my evolution took place was not in my attitude toward same-sex couples, it was in understanding the pain and the sense of stigma that was being placed on same-sex couples who are friends of mine, where they’d say, “You know what, if you’re not calling it marriage, it doesn’t feel like the same thing. Even if you gave me the same rights, the fact that I’m being treated differently or the love that we feel is somehow segmented off, that hurts.” It was because of those conversations that I ended up shifting positions, that civil unions, in fact, were not sufficient rather than marriage. But I think the notion that somehow I was always in favor of marriage per se isn’t quite accurate.
But while running for his first term in the Illinois State Senate, Obama signed a questionnaire in which he answered that he “favored legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.”
When asked about the questionnaire, Obama says
The old questionnaire, you know, is an example of struggling with what was a real issue at the time, which is how do you make sure that people’s rights are enjoyed and these religious sensitivities were taken into account? You know, these are the kinds of things you learn as you… move forward in public life: that sometimes you can’t split the difference. That sometimes you just have to be very clear that this is what’s right. And what I’m very proud of is to see how rapidly the country has shifted and maybe the small part that I’ve played, but certainly my Justice Department and others have played, in this administration in getting to where we need to be.
Contemplating Obama’s response, it doesn’t seem to contradict Axelrod’s claims all that much. Obama says he formed his opinion based on “a whole bunch of religious sensitivities out there.” That doesn’t sound like someone who was struggling with his own religious sensitivities. It sounds like someone who only was against gay marriage because he didn’t want to offend people. This was never an internal struggle for Obama. It was an external one he saw going on in the public.
Of course, he did also say:
I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. Now, for me as a Christian — for me — for me as a Christian, it is also a sacred union. God’s in the mix.
But God being “in the mix” doesn’t mean he thinks that God opposes gay marriage. He might mean God is in the mix from the perspectives of all those people out there holding all those religious sensitivities that he doesn’t share.
Here’s Obama in 2010:
I have been to this point unwilling to sign on to same-sex marriage primarily because of my understandings of the traditional definitions of marriage. But I also think you’re right that attitudes evolve, including mine.
It is not psychologically plausible to claim that you are about to change your mind about something. If you know you will change your mind to believe something in the future, then you already believe it today. But even this I don’t think is a lie. He is simply leaving out important information. Namely that other people’s definitions of traditional marriage make him unwilling to endorse same-sex marriage, not his own definitions. He is saying that once those definitions held by others change suitably, he will be for same-sex marriage. This is psychologically plausible and is in fact what happened.
And that’s not really so different from what Axelrod claims. In fact, it overlaps perfectly. Recall the first sentence of that longer Obama quote:
I think David is mixing up my personal feelings with my position on the issue.
This is an extraordinary statement. Most people think of candidates’ positions being determined by their personal feelings. If they aren’t, why bother running for president? I don’t blame Axelrod for getting confused because I am too.
Obama’s personal feelings were pro-same-sex marriage all along. His position of civil unions was the one handed to him by political operatives.
And this brings up an interesting point about how Obama has governed on this issue. It appears at least on this issue that he seeks to govern using our consciences, not his own. Where else has he done this? Have other presidents?