Richard Kim is right: it has been farcical to watch President Obama—a politician who once wrote, “I favor legalizing same-sex marriage, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages”—shift to the right on marriage equality, and then tentatively swing back now that the public is more favorable to his original position. This tango between Obama and opinion polling has always been about crafting a narrative that can supposedly account for the president’s evolution, in which a struggling, family-values Christian eventually learns to love thy gay neighbor as thyself.
Male Democrats have been writing these gay-marriage “evolution” stories for a long time. During a series of presidential primary debates in 2007, both Obama and John Edwards were asked repeatedly about marriage equality. In July of that year, Edwards told Anderson Cooper he opposed gay marriage but his wife supported it; in September, Edwards added that his then-25-year-old daughter, Cate, also supported marriage equality, and that he expected his two younger children to someday support it, too. That same evening, Obama said his own daughters, then 6 and 9, were already aware of gay couples, and while he hadn’t spoken to them directly about gay marriage, “my wife has.”
These deflections were clever. They allowed the candidates to technically oppose gay marriage while signaling deep sympathy—even love—for those who supported it. For Obama, the purpose of crafting this years-long narrative has clearly been to pave the way for the kind of come-to-Jesus moment Richard so deftly imagines, in which the president delivers an emotional speech crediting his friends and loved ones with helping him see the light on full LGBT equality.