OBAMA AND SAME-SEX MARRIAGE: Joe Biden’s recent garbled statement on Meet the Press that he’s “absolutely comfortable with…men marrying men, women marrying women” sparked a frenzy of speculation. Did Biden actually come out in support of same-sex marriage? (Not really, said Andrew Sullivan.) Was it a calculated attempt by the administration to moonwalk into a pro–gay marriage position? (Possibly, said Josh Marshall.) Or was Biden off the leash in an unscripted break from the White House? (No, said David Axelrod.) But once Education Secretary Arne Duncan endorsed same-sex marriage on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, the anticipation that President Obama’s “evolving” position on gay marriage would reach its final, logical conclusion by November went into overdrive.
The irksome thing about Obama’s narrative on same-sex marriage is not his position on it so much as the insincerity of his homophobia. To take him at his word, same-sex marriage is something he “wrestles” with and might even support but for a deep conflict with his Christian faith. I’m not privy to what goes on in the president’s head, but frankly, this smells like bullshit.
Obama unambiguously supported same-sex marriage in 1996. In response to a survey from Outlines, a gay newspaper in Chicago, he wrote: “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages”—a position that put him on the progressive edge of his party. Since then, in striking contrast to members of his generation who have moved to support same-sex marriage, Obama has “evolved” rightward. There’s no other way to explain this shift except as a matter of sheer political calculation. The further up the political food chain Obama went, the more he concluded that being adamantly pro-gay wasn’t to his electoral benefit. In other words, his current view isn’t a product of evolution so much as it is of intelligent design.
Except that it doesn’t look so smart now. Young people and independents have embraced same-sex marriage in significant numbers during his first term. I have no doubt that Obama would like to be on the right side of the “arc of history” on this one (and on others, like “don’t ask, don’t tell,” he has been). But his current muddled position makes it hard to draw a sharp contrast with Mitt Romney (who has done his own share of waffling). Then there’s the awkward matter of stage-managing a sitting president as he publicly wrestles with his conscience, only to reach a conclusion he likely already believes (and had earlier endorsed).
Obama needs an exit strategy. Maybe in his second term he can attend the wedding of some gay staffers and then get misty in the Rose Garden. “Until I saw Chip and Ru united in matrimony, I didn’t understand how hurtful it was to deny gay and lesbian Americans this profound right…” Yadda yadda yadda. You can write the script now.
On the plus side, I do believe there are older Americans who are conflicted about this issue—and who show it by saying they support civil unions, but not same-sex marriage—and perhaps the president’s bit of theater could provide a template for their own moral conversion. Yes, this is all breathtakingly cynical—but then again, so is Obama’s “evolving” position. RICHARD KIM