Wednesday, May 09, 2012

President Obama Supports Same-Sex Marriage, Says It's Dinner Table Topic For First Family

President has personally 'evolved,' and characterizes opposition as a 'generational' issue...
During an interview with ABC News on Wednesday afternoon, President Obama for the first time publicly came out in support of same-sex marriage, after a long period of saying his position on the subject has been "evolving," and opposing it throughout his career in national politics. The President credited his change of heart in part to dinner-table conversations with First Lady Obama and daughters Malia, 13, and Sasha, 10, but stressed to ABC anchor Robin Roberts that his support for gay marriage is "a personal position." He still supports the concept of states deciding the issue on their own, he said. Mr. Obama is the first president in history to openly support same-sex marriage. (Above: with Roberts during the interview)

"I have to tell you that over the course of several years as 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, at a certain point 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," President Obama said.

As for the dinner table conversations:

"You know, Malia and Sasha, they have friends whose parents are same-sex couples," President Obama said. "There have been times where Michelle and I have been sitting around the dinner table and we're talking about their friends and their parents and Malia and Sasha, it wouldn't dawn on them that somehow their friends' parents would be treated differently."

"It doesn't make sense to them and, frankly, that's the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective."

In a post on the White House blog about the President's interview and his public position switch, the dinner-table discussions are noted: "In the interview, he said that he had discussed the issue around the dinner table with his wife and daughters," wrote Matt Compton, Deputy Director of Online Content for the Office of Digital Strategy.

The President told Roberts that he's confident that more Americans will become comfortable with gays and lesbians getting married in the future, characterizing it as a generational issue. Recent polls support his assertion, with younger Americans less divided on the issue than their elders. The First Lady was involved in his decision-making process, President Obama said in his interview, and it also involved examining their Christian faith.

The pressure was on the President to clarify his position after Vice President Joe Biden said in a Meet the Press interview last Sunday that he is "fully comfortable" with same-sex marriage, which led to a media firestorm. Education Secretary Arne Duncan also expressed similar views this week. Politico reported today that the ABC interview was arranged by the White House last night. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney flailed during the daily briefing on Tuesday when trying to answer reporters' questions on the subject of the President's 'evolving' position.

"Obama aides insisted there was no daylight between the positions held by the president and his vice president when it comes to legal rights, but as other prominent Democrats also weighed in favor of gay marriage, the disconnect became difficult for the White House to explain away," ABC noted. During his current stump speeches, the President frequently cites his efforts to get the military's 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy repealed as a major accomplishment.

On the First Lady partcipating in his decision making, the President said:

"This is something that, you know, we've talked about over the years and she, you know, she feels the same way, she feels the same way that I do. And that is that, in the end the values that I care most deeply about and she cares most deeply about is how we treat other people and, you know, I, you know, we are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it's also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated. And I think that's what we try to impart to our kids and that's what motivates me as president and I figure the most consistent I can be in being true to those precepts, the better I'll be as a as a dad and a husband and, hopefully, the better I'll be as president."

Before taking up her post at the White House, the First Lady's Director of Communications, Kristina Schake, crafted the campaign to get same-sex marriage legalized in California after it became illegal in that state with Proposition 8. Schake was then a partner in Griffin|Schake, a PR/political consultancy firm in Los Angeles with long experience in political/public opinion campaigns. Her former business partner, Chad Griffin, is now the president of the Human Rights Campaign (he was a guest at the State Dinner for the UK, too). The Obama Administration has plenty of openly gay appointees, including Social Secretary Jeremy Bernard--and White House Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses, though he "came with the house."

The full interview will appear on ABC's Good Morning America on Thursday. Excerpts of the interview will air tonight on ABC's World News With Diane Sawyer and Nightline.

ABC created this timeline on the President's "evolving" position:

FEBRUARY 1996: “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages,” reads a typed, signed statement from then-Illinois state senate candidate Obama in response to a questionnaire by the Chicago LGBT newspaper “Outlines.” White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer later publicly disavowed the statement, claiming in June 2011 that the questionnaire was “actually filled out by someone else.”

OCTOBER 2004: “What I believe is that marriage is between a man and a woman … What I believe, in my faith, is that a man and a woman, when they get married, are performing something before God, and it’s not simply the two persons who are meeting,” then-U.S. Senate candidate Obama said in an interview with WTTW Chicago public television.

“That doesn’t mean that that necessarily translates into a position on public policy or with respect to civil unions. What it does mean is that we have a set of traditions in place that, I think, need to be preserved, but I also think we need to make sure that gays and lesbians have the same set of basic rights that are in place.

“I don’t think marriage is a civil right,” Obama said when asked whether there’s an inherent right to marry.

OCTOBER 2010: “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,” President Obama said during an interview with liberal bloggers. “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.”

DECEMBER 2010: “My feelings about this are constantly evolving. I struggle with this. At this point, what I’ve said is, is that my baseline is a strong civil union that provides them the protections and the legal rights that married couples have,” Obama said in response to a question from ABC’s Jake Tapper at a White House press conference.

“I recognize that from their perspective it is not enough, and I think is something that we’re going to continue to debate and I personally am going to continue to wrestle with going forward,” he said.

JUNE 2011: “The president has never favored same-sex marriage. He is against it. The country is evolving on this, and he is evolving on it,” Pfeiffer told progressive activists at the Net Roots Nation conference.

JUNE 2011: “I think it’s important for us to work through these issues because each community is going to be different, each state is going to be different,” Obama said when asked during a White House news conference about New York becoming the latest state to legalize same-sex marriage.

“I think what you’re seeing is a profound recognition on the part of the American people that gays and lesbians and transgender persons are our brothers, our sisters, our children, our cousins, our friends, our co-workers, and that they’ve got to be treated like every other American,” he said. “And I think that principle will win out. It’s not going to be perfectly smooth, and it turns out that the president — I’ve discovered since I’ve been in this office — can’t dictate precisely how this process moves.”

OCTOBER 2011: “I’m still working on it,” Obama said when asked by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos whether he would move from supporting civil unions for same-sex couples to supporting gay marriage.

“I probably won’t make news right now, George. But I think that there’s no doubt that as I see friends, families children of gay couples who are thriving, you know, that has an impact on how I think about these issues.”

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*Photo by Pete Souza/White House