Politics

The President With Two Faces

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The Advocate reports:

When it comes to same-sex marriage, President Barack Obama acknowledged Wednesday that "attitudes evolve, including mine" during an interview with five progressive bloggers….

"Attitudes evolve, including mine."

On the question of marriage, President Obama began by clarifying that he wasn't going to "make big news" at that particular moment. But his answer gave the first indication that he might be rethinking what has so far been his unremitting support for civil unions ever since adopting that stance during his 2004 U.S. Senate bid.

"I have been to this point unwilling to sign on to same-sex marriage primarily because of my understandings of the traditional definitions of marriage," he said. "But I also think you're right that attitudes evolve, including mine. And I think that it is an issue that I wrestle with and think about because I have a whole host of friends who are in gay partnerships. I have staff members who are in committed, monogamous relationships, who are raising children, who are wonderful parents. And I care about them deeply. And so while I'm not prepared to reverse myself here, sitting in the Roosevelt Room at 3:30 in the afternoon, I think it's fair to say that it's something that I think a lot about. That's probably the best you'll do out of me today."

Adam Serwer unpacks that:

If Obama began to openly support marriage equality, that wouldn't just be an "evolution" of his views, it would be a return to where they once were. After all, in 1996, while running for the Illinois State Senate, he said he supported marriage equality. In response to a newspaper questionnaire, he wrote, "I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages."

A Harvey Dent reference would have been too easy.

As we all know, the Illinois State Senate candidate who once supported marriage equality ultimately ran for president in a country in which a majority of citizens did not support same-sex marriage, and his administration has defended in court laws that do just that. Polls are now beginning to show a majority of Americans favoring marriage equality, and you can sense a palpable relief in the president's statement that someday soon, he'll be able to stop pretending that his religious beliefs demand that he oppose equal rights for gay and lesbian couples.

The underlying lesson here -- aside from "Don't trust Barack Obama" -- is the exaggerated importance people put on the presidency. Activists love to project secret agendas onto their favorite politicians. In this case, Obama almost certainly does support gay marriage in his heart, but that hasn't done a thing to advance the cause; it may even have retarded it slightly, to the extent that his gay admirers are less likely to hold his feet to the fire. Progress is coming from changing views at the grassroots, and the fellow who theoretically leads the country is, at best, waiting for public opinion to lead him.