With New York state's same-sex marriage vote likely to come any day (or hour) now, President Obama is strongly hinting that he'll soon have a brand-new position on the issue to share with the country. "He’s very clear about the fact that his position is evolving," White House press secretary Jay Carney said yesterday. That's a call-back to an unsatisfactory old line the president once used when he wanted to assure the LGBT community that he's secretly on their side.
Liberals have a tendency (much more pronounced in 2007 and 2008 but still evident) to imagine that Barack Obama is just as liberal as them. Because he's obviously smart, because he dabbled with genuine leftism in his youth, and because he opposed Iraq, liberals think he's actually Paul Krugman, forced by electoral circumstance (or cowardice) to talk and govern like George H.W. Bush. Coincidentally, this is also Newt Gingrich and Stanley Kurtz's thesis. It's silly when they say he's hiding his socialism behind a veneer of centrism and it's silly when liberals say he's doing the same.
But on one issue it's pretty obvious that Barack Obama is simply hiding his dangerous radicalism: same-sex marriage. He famously signed a questionnaire affirming his support for same-sex marriage in 1996. But he apparently thought that he couldn't remain so liberal if he wanted to be a national political figure. By 2008 he opposed gay marriage, favoring the more reasonable-sounding civil unions instead. He did still oppose DOMA, though, and he plainly understood why gay couples need legal recognition.
Saying what your constituencies want to hear is called "politics," and only the great betrayals are worth getting worked up about. This particular betrayal stands out because it turned out to be so unnecessary. It seemed in 2004 that gay marriage could swing a presidential election. A few short years later, a majority of Americans favor it. It's hard to believe that support for equality would've caused Obama to lose the primaries or the general election in 2008. And there's really no conceivable reason to continue to keep up the farce: His opponents already assume he's the homosexual agenda's best friend.
In 2010, Barack Obama basically gave the game away, and said he'd come back around to supporting marriage equality eventually.
"Attitudes evolve, including mine," he said Wednesday in an interview at the White House with five liberal bloggers. "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."
That was a very thoughtful answer that raised the question of when, exactly, he'd get around to deciding what he had decided to decide. The answer is still not yet.
But if marriage equality happens in New York, legislatively and not through the courts, it will have passed with Republican support. Which will be embarrassing for the White House. (They're New York Republicans, yes, but Staten Island Republicans can go toe-to-toe with the Iowa GOP any day of the week.) With the president still "officially " opposing gay marriage, he won't be able to celebrate the victory -- or criticize the failure, if the New York state Senate acts like the New York state Senate and the talks collapse at the last possible moment.
If it does pass, though, Obama will have a very nice opportunity for a fabulous coming out party.