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Obama's turnabout on gay marriage: Evolution or intelligent design?

May 09, 2012|By Michael McGough
  • President Obama goes on ABC TV to endorse same-sex marriage.
President Obama goes on ABC TV to endorse same-sex marriage. (Carolyn Kaster / Associated…)

Thanks to exposure to the radioactive rhetoric of Joe Biden, President Obama’s position on gay marriage has undergone its final mutation. The much-ridiculed “evolution” of his views ended Wednesday with his announcement in an ABC News interview that “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.”

Was that so hard?

Apparently so. For months Obama has clung to a tortured distinction between opposition to anti-same-sex -marriage initiatives (like Tuesday’s ballot initiative in North Carolina) and support for the concept itself. To supporters of gay marriage and political junkies, his temporizing was transparent. But as long as he didn’t endorse same-sex marriage explicitly, Republicans couldn’t portray themselves as the only party to support  "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve." And socially conservative Democrats, including Latinos and African Americans, could tune out the dog whistles the president was sending to supporters of marriage equality. That was the theory anyway.

Then came Biden. In the aftermath of the veep’s statement that he was “absolutely comfortable” with same-sex marriage, Obama’s spokesmen split semantic hairs to assert that the president and vice president had the same position.  But their damage-control operation had the unintended effect of reminding the public of just how tortured that position was. Suddenly the “evolution” gambit was threatening to put the president in the worst of both worlds: reviled by  gay-marriage opponents because of what was obviously in his heart, and resented by gay-marriage supporters for not having the courage of his convictions. So he sped up the evolution -- or engaged in some intelligent design of a new position.

The tragedy is that Obama won’t get the profile-in-courage points his statement would have earned him if he had made it months ago. This will be remembered as the week in which a leader of the Democratic Party spoke in a heartfelt and seemingly uncalculated way about the worth of same-sex marriage. But that leader was Biden, not Obama.

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