This proves that Barack Obama’s “marriage is between a man and a woman” position — the default escape hatch for all of the top tier Dem presidential contenders in 2008 — is disingenuous, (not to mention illogical since he’s taught constitutional law).
The Windy City Times‘ publisher and executive editor Tracy Baim reports that in 1996, while running in the Illinois State Senate race (13th District), he fully supported marriage equality in his response to a survey by Outlines newspaper (the pub merged with WCT). This survey had been previously cited by the media without access to any supporting documentation. However, while going through archives for another project, Baim discovered the original survey response signed by Obama himself. It’s unequivocal support:
[A]s Obama has run for higher office, from senator to president, he has further shaped his views on marriage, and now he does not back same-sex marriage. In a January 2004 interview I conducted with Obama at the Windy City Times’ office, Obama clearly stated that lack of support for full marriage equality was a matter of strategy rather than principle, but in even more recent comments, it appears he is backing off even further, saying it is more of a religious issue, and also a “state” issue, so he favors civil unions. Both are compromises most gays do not support. First, the U.S. has a separation of church and state, and laws are in place locally and nationally that give benefits based on the very word, “marriage.” Therefore, marriage as it is now defined is a government ( both state and federal ) institution that comes with specific financial and social benefits ( taxes, benefits, inheritance, immigration, custody, etc. ) . So, until government eliminates the word “marriage” from state and federal laws, it is a government issue, and that includes the federal government. Obama’s answer to the 1996 Outlines question was very clear: “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.” There was no use of “civil unions,” no compromise whatsoever.
As we know all too well, the whole “God is in the mix” blather when it comes to civil law makes no sense, and Barack Obama admitted as much in the 2004 interview with the WCT when he was running for the U.S. Senate. It was all about strategy and making the issue a political football, thus the reshaped position once civil unions came to the fore as a politically viable option/escape hatch for him.
Tracy Baim: Do you have a position on marriage vs. civil unions?
Barack Obama: I am a fierce supporter of domestic- partnership and civil-union laws. I am not a supporter of gay marriage as it has been thrown about, primarily just as a strategic issue.
I think that marriage, in the minds of a lot of voters, has a religious connotation. I know that’s true in the African-American community, for example. And if you asked people, ‘should gay and lesbian people have the same rights to transfer property, and visit hospitals, and et cetera,’ they would say, ‘absolutely.’ And then if you talk about, ‘should they get married?’, then suddenly …
…Obama: What I’m saying is that strategically, I think we can get civil unions passed. I think we can get SB 101 passed. I think that to the extent that we can get the rights, I’m less concerned about the name. And I think that is my No. 1 priority, is an environment in which the Republicans are going to use a particular language that has all sorts of connotations in the broader culture as a wedge issue, to prevent us moving forward, in securing those rights, then I don’t want to play their game.
So, there’s the proof, folks; when it comes down to it, supporting marriage equality is all about the polls. As long as full marriage equality isn’t overwhelmingly approved by Americans, when it comes to running for federal office pols — including Obama — believe there’s more to lose than gain if they take an honest position supporting full equality. While that seems elementary, the language used to maneuver around the truth is pretty embarrassing — and exacerbates the already serious problem of too many voters who have trouble understanding the separation of church and state.
More below the fold. I’m quite aware that this is all obvious, but I posed this to my readers who insist that in 2008 he should have taken his 1996 position — do you think Barack Obama would have been elected had he openly supported marriage equality? Would purity and honesty have given us President John McCain (and Sarah Palin a heartbeat away)? That’s not giving him a pass, by the way, it’s more a sigh of discontent that the whole ridiculous dance around the issue is about coddling the beliefs of, rather than educating the ignorant and fence-sitting voters.
The John Edwards public cop-out on marriage equality in 2006 really set the nauseating “politically viable” standard — the whole “tortured pol” meme citing religious limitation that clouds their thinking regarding civil law:
“I was raised in the Southern Baptist church and so I have a belief system that arises from that. It’s part of who I am. I can’t make it disappear. … I personally feel great conflict about that. I don’t know the answer. I wish I did. I think from my perspective it’s very easy for me to say, gay civil unions, yes, partnership benefits, yes, but it is something that I struggle with. Do I believe they should have the right to marry? I’m just not there yet.”
It’s an improvement over the 2004 Dem “run away from gay issues” field of candidates, but it’s pretty tough out here to see our right to marry discussed in 2008 with a shady and disingenuous position that conflates civil rights with religion-based discrimination. That has, in many ways, set progress back on marriage equality because of the role religion plays in U.S. society (and, quite frankly, to the lack of critical thinking skills by too large a slice of the public).
The bottom line is that we’re living the inequality, whereas the issue is an abstraction or distraction to most Americans. Our patience is tested time and again by the sizeable number of people who “aren’t ready.” And those folks, at this point and time, still influence Barack Obama — and his fellow Dems — in their decision to go undercover when it comes to supporting marriage equality. And that hurts, there’s no way around it. It’s why we have to continue to speak out and to call out the inconsistencies and political game playing that are counterproductive.