I’ve said several times that Obama’s famously protracted “evolution” on marriage equality would end around the 2nd week of November. I was wrong. He has now publicly declared that he is in favor of full marriage equality, in an interview with ABC News. Politico reports on what he said:
President Barack Obama said Wednesday that he now supports gay marriage, saying ““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.”
“I’ve stood on the side of broader equality for the LGBT community. I hesitated on gay marriage in part because I thought civil unions would be sufficient,” Obama said in a White House interview with ABC News’s Robin Roberts. “I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people, the word ‘marriage’ evokes very powerful traditions, religious beliefs.”
But, the president said, years of discussion had resulted in an “evolution” to the point that many supporters had hoped for — full backing of gay marriage.
“I have talked to friends and family and neighbors; when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together; when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage,” he said, explaining why he’d made the decision.
There are many legitimate reactions to this. Some are going to cheer him on and note that this is the first time any president has ever said anything even remotely like this (the Republicans certainly aren’t going to say it — at least for another 20 or 30 years, after which they’ll take credit for it — and Clinton signed DOMA). And they’ll be entirely justified in viewing it that way.
Others will say they’re glad he did it, but what took him so long? And that’s entirely justified too. All this talk about an evolving view is nonsense, pretty words to hide raw political calculation. There is no way he would have said what he said if it hadn’t been thoroughly discussed among his advisers, completely with extensive polling and focus groups and deep analysis of whether it would help him or hurt him politically. And his advisers obviously have decided that it would help him, or at least not hurt him, in November. That is how such positions are taken.
But even if the latter is true, we should view that as good news. Yes, I’d rather have a leader who takes positions based on principle alone, who supports it just because it’s right and just. But we don’t live in that world. And if, in the world we do live in, taking the pro-equality position is now viewed as being good for a politician based on such calculations, that indicates just how far we’ve come in a remarkably short period of time.
Remember that this only became a major political issue less than 10 years ago, with the Goodridge decision in Massachusetts. And at the time, the polls showed that 85% of Americans were opposed to marriage equality. In 8.5 years, we have gone from massive opposition to a slim majority in favor nationally. Despite the loss in North Carolina on Tuesday, that is astonishing progress. Viewed with a bit of historical distance, we will be amazed at how quickly that shift has taken place.
As Greg Laden has pointed out, the one thing you can guarantee about every advance in civil rights is that it will not have happened soon enough. We didn’t end slavery soon enough; we didn’t give women the right to vote soon enough; we didn’t end segregation or pass the Civil Rights Act soon enough. It’s never soon enough. But in the end, justice and equality always do seem to win. We’re gonna win this one too. And regardless of whether it’s based on principle or political calculation, Obama’s announcement will be seen as a watershed moment a decade from now, just as LBJ’s support of the Civil Rights Act was 50 years ago.