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Obama’s gay marriage flip-flop hints at campaign targets

Why is it so hard to believe a left-leaning politician might genuinely oppose same-s-x marriage? Julia Gillard is hounded for her “personal view” and now Barack Obama is facing renewed claims of cynical posturing.

A 15-year-old candidate position survey in which Obama, running for the Illinois state senate, pledged his support for same-s-x marriage made headlines again this week.

That support, of course, stands in direct contrast to the position his campaign took when running for president. In 2008, Obama held another view: civil unions, while “separate but equal”, were equal enough for gay and lesbian Americans. Why not full marriage? “God is in the mix,” he explained.

It is a rare sight in politics for a politician to shift from a progressive to a more conservative position, even rarer to do so on a gay rights issue, but until this week few outside the LGBT media had picked up on the story.

That was the case until an embarrassing own goal by White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer, who gave new life to the flip-flop by suggesting in front of a room full of online journalists and bloggers that the document was a “fake”. The White House quickly issued a statement backtracking from Pfeiffer’s claim, but now the story was out and journalists had a new reason to be suspicious of Obama’s stated views.

The day before, Obama’s re-election campaign team fed a story to The New York Times that the president was “evolving” on the marriage equality issue. It was testing the water, a standard practice to see the reaction before deciding what position he would take into the 2012 race.

While polls show Americans are increasingly supportive of marriage equality, those increases are mostly coming from white voters. It is widely assumed Obama has chosen a re-election campaign strategy that relies on mass turnout of Latino and black voters.

If advancing on gay rights presents risks, so does standing still.  The president’s public support for civil unions as a valid alternative to marriage equality has given cover to those who oppose gay rights but, understandably, don’t want to be called a bigot or homophobic.

When NFL Super Bowl star David Tyree declared last week that gay marriage was unnatural and will lead to anarchy, conservative television talk show figure Elizabeth Hasselbeck came to his defence by citing the president’s stance: “… so this is not something that is totally out of the box here”.

It’s those situations that have Democratic strategists reflecting on how much damage the president’s position is doing to enthusiasm in the party’s left wing.

As Crikey hit deadline Obama was attending his first gay-run campaign fundraiser in New York. On the verge of ending the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy that banned gays and lesbians from open service in the US military, the president won’t be attending empty handed. But marriage is a big issue in the empire state.

The New York senate is expected to vote on legalising marriage equality today, just hours after the fundraiser. Outside the gala fundraiser protesters chanted “Evolve already”. Inside the $1250 event, supporter were more diplomatic: “Say yes to marriage”.

Progressive blogs have been feeding the notion for the entire length of Obama’s presidency that his opposition to marriage equality was merely a matter of posturing for the sake of expediency. Bill Clinton, much older than Obama, is a supporter, but his even more progressive wife Hillary has been unable to concur as Secretary of State as would contradict government policy.

Fuelling those beliefs has been recent efforts by the Obama administration to declare discrimination against same-s-x couples in federal law as unconstitutional. Also, his support for the repeal of the Defence of Marriage Act that bans any federal recognition of same-s-x couples, married or not.

Like Gillard, there is no evidence that Obama has been lying about his personal ideas of marriage or that his 2008 reversal to a more conservative view was not genuine.

But Obama, more than Gillard, has given himself room to move when his party makes the obvious move that the public has already made.

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  • 1
    kate
    Posted Friday, 24 June 2011 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    Why is it so hard to believe a left-leaning politician might genuinely oppose same-s-x marriage?”

    Because it doesn’t make sense. The arguments against same-s-x marriage come down to (a) tradition and/or (b) religion*. Neither of which, you would think, sit easily in a progressive, secular mindset. Since when do the left accept “because it’s always been that way” or “god says” as good reasons for anything?

    Whereas the reasons in favour (equality, human rights, anti-discrimination etc) are exactly the type of justification a bleeding-heart leftie is looking for.

  • 2
    Posted Friday, 24 June 2011 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Why is it so hard to believe a left-leaning politician might genuinely oppose same-s-x marriage?”

    I just came here to point out precisely what Kate already has.

    So, yes. What she said.

  • 3
    gsgs gssg
    Posted Friday, 24 June 2011 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    Would someone kindly explain to me why a perfectly ordinary word meaning ‘gender’ is being censored in the article? An automated censorship system run amok? Are you about to begin censoring the words ‘doodle’ or ‘cock’, since they also have sexual secondary meanings?

    Normally I wouldn’t mind, but in this context it seems like it is mockingly sexualising marriage equality by implying that ‘same-sex’ is some sort of perverted sexual practise.

    Please rectify.

  • 4
    JamesG
    Posted Friday, 24 June 2011 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    I don’t see why Obama (and Julia Gillard) can’t allow their support for human rights of social equality for LGBT people to trump their dislike of gay-marriage? After all I don’t like the inhumane ritual slaughter of sheep by Jews and Muslims. But I respect their human right to religious freedom. Or at least, apparently, the majority of Australians of voting age do, since it’s the law innit?

  • 5
    Stephen Flegg
    Posted Saturday, 25 June 2011 at 1:13 am | Permalink

    The reason we have flip-flopping left leaning politicians in Australia and the USA is that after such protracted decade-long era’s of right-wing leaders (Bush, Howard, Blair and before them Reagan, Thatcher, Hawke) the public are more right now than ever before.

    Broadly speaking, Australians don’t want gay marriage, onshore asylum processing or a carbon tax. The politicians who are inclined to the left are just realising now that they have something to lose (government) that remaining popular means having to take a few steps to the right, because the majority of people are latte sipping inner city types.

    Stephenflegg.blogspot.com

  • 6
    AR
    Posted Sunday, 26 June 2011 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    Left=gay marriage support? Not necessarily or even logically because, as Kate @1 pointed out, the only opposition must be tradition/religion, but I would suggest the problem is that it is non question.
    God bothers of all/any flavour can fulminate and threaten to call down sulphur & brimstone all they want with no effect.
    Similarly, however they choose to perform marriage ceremonies with whistles & bells & smells, they are not legal until ratified by the state. Hence the state may marry a couple, the religious cannot. End of discussion, collapse of stout (and tax subsidised) parties.
    If another example of a non question would help illustrate the point, try this.
    “I am totally against the idea of female priests” not because of the ovaries but because of the existence of a priesthood. So with marriage.
    What next, legislation for the baggage allowance for the Rapture flight? Makes as much sense.

  • 7
    The_roth
    Posted Monday, 27 June 2011 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    I wish people would stop saying that Barack Obama and American Democrats are left leaning - they are about as left as Australian Liberals are.

    To be more precise it would be more appropriate to contextualise in what are arena they participate and where they stand in that. Comparing Barack’s left-ness Julia’s left-ness is chalk and cheese. She would be stung up as commie if she tried to run in the states.

  • 8
    Meski
    Posted Monday, 27 June 2011 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    God is in the mix? What a cop-out. What about marriages performed *outside* of churches, where god is not even mentioned in the ceremony?

  • 9
    HughG
    Posted Monday, 27 June 2011 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    gsgs gssg; actually I think its an interesting statement to censor sex out of same-sex, as sexuality realistically should have no part in personal rights and I think that it does no one any good to consider other people’s sexual orientation as having any bearing on their life at all. So it is kind of unfair that gay people get characterised immediately on the basis of sex, when realistically its probably the last thing they should be identified by. What I mean to say is; I’m gay, but I would describe myself as a white australian male who is a little bit alcoholic, with a great sense of humour, loves being a grandpa at a very young age, and who is at the very end of my characteristics, gay. But immediately if I want to get married, sex is already brought up into it.

    Liz Feldman famously said “Personally, I am very excited about “gay marriage”, or as I like to call it, “marriage”. Because I had lunch this afternoon, I didn’t have “gay lunch”. And I parked my car, I didn’t “gay park” it.”

    Harley; a good article - though the link to Elizabeth Hasselbeck coming to someone’s defence doesn’t appear to be accessible in this region. I would say one thing that Obama risks by being too fast with his progressive changes, and by declaring overt homosexual friendly stances is that he will very much alienate the borderline voters who will see that he is being too much of a changer, and accuse him of having a huge homosexual leaning interest. In comparison I would say Julia Gillard has done little at all for homosexual people, and unless the Sydney Morning Herald publishes something that suggests its the new and popular thing, then she won’t.

  • 10
    Zarathrusta
    Posted Tuesday, 28 June 2011 at 12:10 am | Permalink

    I don’t consider any US party “left”, but…

    “Why is it so hard to believe a left-leaning politician might genuinely oppose same-s-x marriage?” Because you’re an atheist who is living in sin Julia and because Labor has been selling it’s election to the GLBTI community for ages as being pro equality and so much depends on marriage that you can’t be equal if you don’t have equal access to it. So it has been sold as Labor policy Julia, despite your pathetic cave-ins in the term before Rudd when you colluded with the Liberals to define marriage as different gendered.

    If the real Julia really believes in the sanctity of marriage she should claim nothing for her partner because if it aint got a certificate, it’s just as much “not a real marriage” as same-sex. So how about it Julia you self-serving hypocrite.

  • 11
    Meski
    Posted Tuesday, 28 June 2011 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    The sin is all in your mind, Zara. It has no existence outside of there.

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