‘Like Lincoln and Emancipation’: Obama’s Gay Marriage Evolution

During the campaign for the Democratic nomination campaign in 2008, Obama gave one interview to an LGBT publication in which he said the following:

Anybody who’s been at an LGBT event with me can testify that my message is very explicit — I don’t think that the gay and lesbian community, the LGBT community, should take its cues from me or some political leader in terms of what they think is right for them. It’s not my place to tell the LGBT community, “Wait your turn.” I’m very mindful of Dr. King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” where he says to the white clergy, “Don’t tell me to wait for my freedom.”

He repeated this point, as President, in a speech to the Human Rights Campaign.

Franklin Roosevelt famously said: “I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.” Obama told LGBT Americans in 2008 to ‘make him do it’, and that’s what the LGBT movement did. That’s why he evolved on marriage equality to the position of support he made yesterday.

The Washington media has been working themselves silly in what Jon Stewart accurately called “three days of frazzled bulls**t” since Joe Biden’s comments on Meet The Press on Sunday. Today, insiders were reporting that Obama had always planned to make these comments before November, just not right now.

I am with Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic, who said that:

“Much of this process reminds me of Lincoln weighing emancipation, even as he knew, in his heart, that slavery was a sin.”

He has not ‘evolved’ backwards, as Mittens has, since the mid-nineties. Obama has needed the determined ‘fierce advocacy’ of LGBT people and their supporters to push him to this point. Nay, he wanted that — he said as much.

And, yes, maybe some of that push on Obama is from his campaign’s funders. The Washington Post calls this ‘The Influence Industry,’ in a story more than a little reminiscent of surreptitious coverage of Jewish-moneyed supposed influence and the National Organization for Marriage, for one, has already picked this one up. Expect more.

Elsewhere on the right, the reaction was extremely interesting.

Fox News online initially headlined that Obama had declared a ‘War on Marriage.’ Immediately after host Sheppard Smith declared that Obama has “joined the 21st century,” that Republicans are “sitting very firmly without much question on the wrong side of history,” the headline was changed to ‘Obama flip flops.’

Most of the religious right’s reaction was predictable — Bill Donohue of the Catholic League suggested, without irony, given his likely vote, that Obama also favors polygamy. But two wingnuts stood out. Phyllis Schlafly, a general for the evangelical warriors from way before they had stormed the citadel, told The Hill that they’d already lost youth and that President Obama’s announcement could further erode their position.

In typical style, though she didn’t just blame Obama, she also blamed the public school system.

“I’m worried about what kind of mischief they’re teaching in the schools,” she said. “It isn’t just the gays, it’s some other groups. The schools are a real threat to the future of our country.”

American Values head and former FRC president Gary Bauer in another subtle nod to the reality of their position saw fit to dilute his message and ask “why the president is spending even one second of his time thinking about how and to radically transform the institution of marriage” as opposed to just talking about the economy.

Perhaps the most ridiculous remarks came from the Log Cabin Republicans, who are the house gays of the Republican party. Their Executive Director called Obama’s comments “offensive and callous” because he made them after the vote on gay marriage in the constitution in North Carolina. Another gay Republican group GOProud called the comments “cold comfort.”

They both mention the position of Dick Cheney, who has a lesbian daughter, on marriage equality. They forget that this is “cold comfort” to people in those states where Karl Rove put gay civil rights on the ballot in 2004 in order to drive evangelical voters to the polls.

Conservative pundit and former GW Bush speechwriter David Frum nailed the problem for the Republicans, and especially the (Koch brother) Libertarian wing, writing that:

The statement changes everything because it locks in place for another generation the Brand ID of Democrats as the party of cultural modernity. This Brand ID fits uneasily upon the Democrats, for they are also the party of ethnic minorities and recent immigrants. With the president’s statement, however, the modernists have gained the clear upper hand. Meanwhile on the Republican side of aisle, the cultural modernists keep losing. For all that people talk about the ascendancy of the Koch Brothers within the GOP, I’d venture that Charles and David feel about same-sex marriage almost exactly as President Obama does. Yet on this one, they lose.

I’d add that the above-ground standard bearer for the Libertarians in the GOP, Ron Paul, has yet to personally affirm his support for marriage equality.

A glance at the administration’s record prior to yesterday’s comments shows that they had already backed equality for gay and lesbian couples.

Writes Chris Geidner for Metro Weekly:

Obama’s position now is three-fold: (1) he personally supports same-sex marriage; (2) he believes as a policy matter that state, and not federal, law should define marriages, as it always has been in this country; and (3) he believes that there are federal constitutional limitations on those state decisions.

Just one more step remains on marriage equality, says Geidner, in terms of what the administration has in its power to do:

It is true that the administration has not tidily wrapped those strands together. Doing so, by filing an amicus brief in a state marriage lawsuit like the challenge against California’s Proposition 8 would make this point clear to all.

One other reaction. Lawrence O’Donnell spoke movingly about Obama’s comments with Pearl Berlin and Lennie Gerber, an elderly lesbian couple from High Point, North Carolina. They’ve been together for more than 45 years. He also spoke with Zach Wahls, the straight son of a lesbian couple from Iowa who has become a fierce advocate for LGBT rights. Watch:

Related stories:

BREAKING: Obama Embraces Marriage Equality

Same Sex Marriage & Pres. Obama: Cultural Waves, or Ripple?

Push to Legalize Gay Marriage in Ohio Begins

Photo credit: Screenshot from barackobama.com


John Mansky
John Mansky5 years ago

Thank you for the article...

Joe R.
Joe R5 years ago

Amazing. Barack Obama is a true human rights hero and is worthy to stand with Lincoln and Martin Luther King! What a man!

BMutiny TCorporationsAreE

Oh, and by the way, this IS an Historic Moment, and one that Future Historians might well write up and dwell on.
Black People were at all times a Minority group in the U.S.; but their Emancipation, and later Civil Rights successes, SET PRECEDENTS FOR THE CIVIL RIGHTS OF ALL PEOPLE EVERYWHERE ; including outside the United States!

LGBT people are, certainly, a Minority group, everywhere. But, they have family, friends, allies, supporters EVERYWHERE. And, FULL EQUAL RIGHTS for LGBT people, will have a Positive Effect on THE EQUAL CIVIL RIGHTS OF ALL HUMAN BEINGS EVERYWHERE; including outside the U.S.!

The Repukelicans are trying to counteract the effect of this momentous, ground-breaking occasion by saying that "it doesn't matter; it's an unimportant issue". Poor Repukelicans! that's the best they can come up with!

BMutiny TCorporationsAreE

The analogy between Lincoln and his decision about freeing the slaves, and President Obama coming out in defense of Marriage Equality, is in fact a very good one.

Those who want to re-write History into simplistic black-and-white-with-no-shades-of-grey terms, want to try to make Lincoln, Washington, etc. into Superheroes with no human flaws or weaknesses, judged by our present standards. That is to try to deify Human Beings who are more like the mass of Humanity than we like to admit to ourselves; we seem to NEED "perfect" icons to worship, in the persons of Lincoln, Washington, etc.
Lincoln once said that "if not freeing a single slave would preserve the Union, he would be for that." The Emancipation Proclamation actually did not directly free a single slave, since it only applied to enemy territory not under Union control.
Lincoln's attitudes, both personal AND political, EVOLVED over time; as shown BOTH in Lincoln's STATEMENTS, and in his ACTIONS. Those who can't accept that, who disagree, simply REFUSE TO READ ANYTHING THAT DOESN'T FIT THEIR HERO-WORSHIPING.
Future Historians, will write EXACTLY the same kinds of things about President Obama and his views on Marriage Equality; as expressed both in his STATEMENTS, and in his ACTIONS.
{Those who want to without warrant "idolize" Lincoln, by the same thought-processes want to "demonize" President Obama. Sorry, the FACTS absolutely say otherwise!}

Beth K.
.5 years ago

And James C., I'm sorry for how you were raised, I was raised to think for myself, and to not judge people by a fictional book "written" by illiterate people a thousand years ago.

Beth K.
.5 years ago

James C. I'm not gay, just evolved. And that's "you're"; a contraction for you are. Why is it that bad grammar usually goes along with ignorant thinking.

Catt R.
Catt R5 years ago

James C...... if homosexual acts are being FORCED on you you should call the police and report the rape. I feel badly that thus has happened to you, and will assure you that is not normal behavior for a gay person to force themselves on another. Usually I tell people that what happens in another persons bedroom is not any of their business, and if it makes them sick that they should not be watching anyway. You have made the claim that homosexual acts are being forced on you--- just call the police, it is not as if you were female and would be told you were asking for it.

James C.
James C5 years ago

Im betting your gay Beth I was raised and will always believe homosexuality is a sin and as bad as pedophelia. Its bieng forced on us as normal and it is not normal its a sickness.

Beth K.
.5 years ago

James C. evolving is exactly what Obama did.

Too bad you are apparently incapable of also evolving. What year are you stuck in?

James C.
James C5 years ago

Wow the propaganda machine never gives it a rest if they had there way Obama would be a living god. But the truth of the matter is this is nothing at all like what lincoln did . And not to try and buzzkill anyone when Lincoln did what he did he didnt do it out of compasion as history tells it. And niether is Obama as he has just made every last real Christian a republican at least as far as the next election will show.His war on faith is out of control and must end. I do not like Romney in any way shape or form but if I now have to choose between the lesser of two very evil men I wont be voting Obama.