Dissecting President Obama's 'Evolution' on Gay Marriage


In February 2011, the Justice Department said it would continue to enforce DOMA, but it would no longer defend the constitutionality of the law.

The Obama administration waded into the Proposition 8 fight for the first time last month when the Justice Department filed a legal brief asking the Supreme Court to strike down the California measure barring same-sex marriage. While the president himself did not issue a written argument for the legal brief, he suggested to reporters earlier this month that his interpretation of the Constitution provides a fundamental right to same-sex marriage.

Obama's 'Evolution' On Gay Marriage

In 1996, Obama, then an Illinois state senate candidate, seemed to back marriages for same-sex couples when he signed a statement in response to a questionnaire that read "I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages." The statement was later publicly disavowed by White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer, who claimed in June 2011 that the questionnaire was "actually filled out by someone else."

But when Obama ran for Senate in 2004, he provided a definition of marriage that adhered more to the classifications provided by Prop 8 and DOMA, citing his faith as guiding his position on same-sex marriage at the time.

"What I believe is that marriage is between a man and a woman," then-U.S. Senate candidate Obama said in an interview with WTTW Chicago public television. "What I believe, in my faith, is that a man and a woman, when they get married, are performing something before God, and it's not simply the two persons who are meeting.

"That doesn't mean that that necessarily translates into a position on public policy or with respect to civil unions. What it does mean is that we have a set of traditions in place that, I think, need to be preserved, but I also think we need to make sure that gays and lesbians have the same set of basic rights that are in place," he said.

But, as president, Obama, who supported civil unions for gay couples for the better part of his first term, admitted he was "evolving" on the issue at a time when public opinion had started to shift toward a greater acceptance of same-sex marriage.

"My feelings about this are constantly evolving. I struggle with this. At this point, what I've said is, is that my baseline is a strong civil union that provides them the protections and the legal rights that married couples have," Obama said in a White House news conference in 2010. "I recognize that from their perspective it is not enough, and I think is something that we're going to continue to debate and I, personally, am going to continue to wrestle with going forward.

"I think it's important for us to work through these issues because each community is going to be different, each state is going to be different," Obama said 2011 in response to a question about New York legalizing same-sex marriage. "I think what you're seeing is a profound recognition on the part of the American people that gays and lesbians and transgender persons are our brothers, our sisters, our children, our cousins, our friends, our co-workers, and that they've got to be treated like every other American.

"And I think that principle will win out. It's not going to be perfectly smooth, and it turns out that the president -- I've discovered since I've been in this office -- can't dictate precisely how this process moves."

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