In an interview with ABC New today, President Obama let the cat out of the bag (it was meowing so loudly the entire country could hear it): He supports gay marriage. He’s not doing anything about it, but he’s evolved.
As one report notes:
The announcement completes a turnabout for the president, who has opposed gay marriage throughout his career in national politics. In 1996, as a state Senate candidate, he indicated support for gay marriage in a questionnaire, but Obama aides later disavowed it and said it did not reflect the candidate’s position.
In 2004, as a candidate for the U.S. Senate, he cited his own religion in framing his views: “I’m a Christian. I do believe that tradition and my religious beliefs say that marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman.”
He maintained that position through his 2008 presidential campaign, and through his term as president, until today.
The president said that “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.” Me personally? There’s the cynical Obama still dancing, trying to signal to gay marriage opponents, I suppose, that this is “just” his view. And, he hedged, this is really up to the states. (But what if they want to ban it?)
He managed to drag his religious beliefs into this, so as to cushion the blow (or sweet talk religious voters?): “[Y]ou know, we [he and Michelle] are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated.” Apparently only Republicans are prohibited from using religion to justify their policy positions.
But he is president, of course, and what he says matters a great deal. You can say it is cynical, and it is. You can say it is political opportunism, and it is. You can say it’s an empty statement without policy implications, and it is (he’s already declined to defend DOMA). But it is a milestone, if only a rhetorical one. And he is dead right that “some of this is also generational.”
The irony of course is that I think this is unlikely to change a single vote. The vast number of Americans opposed to gay marriage are either committed conservatives who will never vote for him or African American Democrats who will vote for him no matter what. The only implication may be that Christian conservatives’ enthusiasm for Romney increases and his base-turnout problems become a non-concern.
But now the question is: What’s he going to do about it? Will he oppose state initiatives (like the one that passed in North Carolina)? I suspect he’ll do nothing more. The media swoon will take up the political oxygen for a while. And then everyone will go back to worrying about the economy.
UPDATE (3:35 p.m.): GOProud puts out a statement that reads: “It is good to see that after intense political pressure that President Obama has finally come around to the Dick Cheney position on marriage equality. I am sure, however, the president’s newly discovered support for marriage is cold comfort to the gay couples in North Carolina. The president waited until after North Carolina passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. This is hardly a profile in courage by President Obama. For years now, President Obama has tried his hardest to have it both ways on this issue. The real kudos here goes to LGBT activists and their allies who finally forced the president into yielding on this issue.”