Obama’s claim eight months ago that his position is evolving on gay marriage seems to have created a political conundrum: It has led gay advocates to demand, understandably, to know when his position will reach full evolution. As I noted here yesterday, the problem is that Obama has left everyone believing that he believes in full equality but that he’s not quite prepared to take the final step of saying so.
In this context, you really have to watch the interview that David Axelrod gave on this topic to Lawrence O’Donnell last night. Axelrod made it clear that Obama doesn’t have any intention of voicing public support for full marriage equality. But he also previewed the argument the White House will make to gay advocates who remain upset about this.
To use a variation of a quote the President himself is fond of using, the idea is that Obama is bending the arc of history in the right direction. Axelrod:
Let’s recap what the president has done on this issue. He’s argued from the beginning for equal legal rights, equal benefits. He’s brought that policy to the federal government. he obviously fought long and hard to end the don’t ask don’t tell policy. It’s been the policy of his administration not to defend the DOMA cases moving forward, because he thinks there are significant constitutional issues. And he’s supported the rights of states to make these decisions...So there’s been significant progress under his administration. And he’s pointed the way forward ...
We’ve made historic progress on this issue. It may not be progress to the satisfaction of everyone. But we’ve certainly made progress, moving in the right direction. I think history is moving in a direction here.
What’s interesting, I think, is that Axelrod is suggesting pretty clearly that the White House thinks full marriage equality should be the goal, and that Obama deserves full credit for moving us towards it. It is certainly true that Obama has a good record on gay rights. The problem, fair or not, is that this record — combined with his assertion that his position is evolving — has left everyone convinced that he believes in full marriage equality, and has only intensified the impatience of gay advocates to see him come out and say so. This sense has only been exacerbated by word that he supported gay marriage in 1996. Now they want him to hurry up and evolve already.
The White House response is to plead for maneuvering room by arguing that Obama has played an important role in nudging history in the right direction on the issue. Whether this will be enough remains to be seen. It’s hard to imagine gays deserting him in significant numbers, though enthusiasm and fundraising could suffer. But it seems clear that for good or ill, the White House has settled on its approach to this problem.