Barack Obama Was For Same-Sex Marriage Before He Was Against It

Jim Burroway

January 13th, 2009

During Barack Obama’s 2008 run for the White House, he was asked at the HRC/Logo forum about his position on same-sex marriage. His responses went like this:

…I am a strong supporter not of a weak version of civil unions, but of a strong version, in which the rights that are conferred at the federal level to persons who are part of the same sex union are compatible. When it comes to federal rights, the over 1,100 rights that right now are not being given to same sex couples, I think that’s unacceptable, and as president of the United States, I am going to fight hard to make sure that those rights are available.

My view is that we should try to disentangle what has historically been the issue of the word “marriage,” which has religious connotations to some people, from the civil rights that are given to couples, in terms of hospital visitation, in terms of whether or not they can transfer property or Social Security benefits and so forth. …  I…would continue to support a civil union that provides all the benefits that are available for a legally sanctioned marriage. And it is then, as I said, up to religious denominations to make a determination as to whether they want to recognize that as marriage or not.

Generally, he was supportive of what he called “strong civil unions,” but he did not want to call a same-sex union a marriage. Even though he opposed Prop 8, his reluctance to address marriage directly gave Prop 8 supporters an opening to mischaracterize his position to African-American and other voters in California.

But there was a time however when Obama felt differently and wasn’t afraid to say so. In a Windy City Timeshas a special inaugural edition, they combed through their archives for material from Obama’s 1996 Illinois State Senate race.

The first item from their archives was a questionnaire sent to Obama by IMPACT, which was Chicago’s main LGBT political action committee. On question 7 of the questionnaire, IMPACT asked about same-sex marriage in the state of Illinois. Obama’s answer went like this (his handwritten answer in boldface):

7. Do you endorse the Marriage Resolution, a statement to of support for the right of same-gender individuals to marry:

Because marriage is a basic human right and an individual personal choise.

RESOLVED, the state should not interfere with same-gender couples who chose to marry and share fully and equally in the rights, responsibilities and commitment of civil marriage.

I would support such a resolution.

During the same campaign, the Outlines newspaper (which later merged with Windy City Times) sent a questionnaire as well. Obama’s typewritten response to question three was more direct:

I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages

By the time then-State Sen. Obama was running for the U.S. Senate however, his position shifted. In a 2004 interview with Windy City Times, his answer morphed into the one which is familiar today:

I am a fierce supporter of domestic- partnership and civil-union laws. I am not a supporter of gay marriage as it has been thrown about, primarily just as a strategic issue.

I think that marriage, in the minds of a lot of voters, has a religious connotation. I know that’s true in the African-American community, for example. And if you asked people, ‘should gay and lesbian people have the same rights to transfer property, and visit hospitals, and et cetera,’ they would say, ‘absolutely.’ And then if you talk about, ‘should they get married?’, then suddenly …

What I’m saying is that strategically, I think we can get civil unions passed. I think we can get SB 101 passed. I think that to the extent that we can get the rights, I’m less concerned about the name. And I think that is my No. 1 priority, is an environment in which the Republicans are going to use a particular language that has all sorts of connotations in the broader culture as a wedge issue, to prevent us moving forward, in securing those rights, then I don’t want to play their game.

In 2008, there was no mention of his position on same-sex marriage as being a “strategic” position. That part of his answer has been dropped altogether. Otherwise, his message has been consistent since 2004. But it’s sadly a far cry from where he first started.


January 13th, 2009

“What I’m saying is that strategically, I think we can get civil unions passed. I think we can get SB 101 passed. I think that to the extent that we can get the rights, I’m less concerned about the name.”

Civil Unions are soooooo 2001! Connecticut experience showed that the name really matters. Really. Either we all get the name or none of us do (personally, I’d prefer the latter).

But we are making progress – it was 18 years between California’s striking-down of its anti-miscegination laws and Loving v. Virginia. A whole generation! We’re moving pretty fast now.

I do wish Obama were more courageous on this issue. He’s a very successful politician, and presumeably a good judge of who he can throw-under-the-bus to optimize his political agenda. Unfortunately, right now it’s us. But it’s getting harder every year for politicians to ignore our concerns.


January 14th, 2009

The answer is simple folks. Obama believes in marriage equality, but he had to soften his stance in order to get elected. It’s politics.


January 14th, 2009

It’s reasonable to accept gay marriage. But i am not forcing others to accept it. But I just can’t understand why other can’t accept this as a common thing. “Our heart is full of love as you straight people do. why not?” said by my bisexual friend at well, it is a popuar issure for us to disscussed and i can also calm down to hear any opinion.


January 14th, 2009

I don’t think Obama ever actually opposed same-sex marriage; otherwise, he would have supported Prop 8. He just said he was against same-sex marriage to attract the votes of the religious right types.


January 14th, 2009

Does it matter? It’s not like federal marriage is going to come up in the next four years. If he has a second term, that’s enough time to change his mind again just like many others would need to change. He supports the issues of DOMA, DADT, and ENDA and only those will come up in his first term.


January 15th, 2009

So he’s a cynical panderer and a hypocrite. But I already knew that.


January 17th, 2009

Well, like Jake said. Obama is a politician. Why do we keep expecting successful politicians to be martyrs and angels?

Working for real social change through careful political compromises doesn’t really work.

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