Obama’s same-sex marriage controversy: ‘I am just not very good at bullsh*tting’
In Believer, the president’s former confidante David Axelrod blames himself for the ‘political necessity’ of Obama’s 2008 opposition to same-sex marriage
Marriage equality activists weren’t the only ones frustrated with Barack Obama when during his 2008 presidential run he opposed same-sex marriage “as a Christian”.
Obama himself was frustrated about it, if a description in a new book by his former top adviser, David Axelrod, is to be believed. The presidential candidate was so frustrated, in fact, that after one event in which he had to say he was against same-sex marriage, Obama complained: “I’m just not very good at bullshitting.”
Obama may have been selling himself short on that score, given the number of times he or his advisers publicly opposed same-sex marriage over the years. But the “bullshitting” scene in Axelrod’s book, described first on Tuesday by Time magazine, puts the president’s duplicity on the issue in a stark new light.
In the book, Believer: My Forty Years in Politics, Axelrod blames himself, and his political calculations, for preventing Obama for standing up for what he believed in.
“Opposition to gay marriage was particularly strong in the black church, and as he ran for higher office, he grudgingly accepted the counsel of more pragmatic folks like me, and modified his position to support civil unions rather than marriage, which he would term a ‘sacred union’,” Axelrod writes. “Having prided himself on forthrightness, though, Obama never felt comfortable with his compromise and, no doubt, compromised position.”
The “political necessity” argument from the Obama administration is one that is familiar to activists beyond the LGBTQ community. On issues from immigration to racially charged police violenceto the decriminalization of marijuana , activists have voiced frustration at a perceived double-dealing by the president on the issues they hold most dear, and fatigue with repeated White House requests for patience.
Obama has described his changing public views on same-sex marriage as an “evolution”, but he had to devolve before he evolved. As a candidate for the Illinois state senate in 1996, Obama said he favored same-sex marriage in response to a questionnaire from a Chicago-area gay and lesbian newspaper. “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages,” Obama wrote .
But out on the presidential campaign trail in August 2008, Obama gave voice to the opposite view in an interview with evangelical pastor Rick Warren, head of Saddleback megachurch in southern California. Asked to define marriage, Obama said: “I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. Now, for me as a Christian – for me – for me as a Christian, it is also a sacred union. God’s in the mix.”
Obama went on to say he would not support a constitutional amendment using that definition.
It took Obama less than four years from the Warren interview to arrive at his May 2012 interview with ABC News’s Robin Roberts, in which he finally came out in favor of same-sex 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,” Obama said. Vice-President Joe Biden had inadvertently broken the ice by coming out for same-sex marriage in a separate interview a few days before.
Obama’s evolution has roughly tracked public opinion. National opposition to same-sex marriage began a sharp decline after President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman, into law in 1996. A majority of the public began to favor same-sex marriage sometime between 2010 and 2011, according to analysis byFiveThirtyEight .
The US supreme court on Monday refused to stop same-sex marriages from beginning in Alabama, in a move some took to be an indicator of a more general disposition on the court as it prepares to take up the question of whether marriage equality should be considered enshrined in the constitution.
Obama isn’t the first person Obama has called a bullshitter. In a 2012 campaign with Rolling Stone, Obama said opponent Mitt Romney was a “bullshitter” any child could spot. “You know, kids have good instincts,” the president told the magazine. “They look at the other guy and say, ‘Well, that’s a bullshitter, I can tell.’”
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