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December 31, 2010

Obama now ‘struggles,’ but once supported full marriage

Washington, D.C.--President Barack Obama told an interviewer that his views on same-sex marriage are “evolving” from his present position favoring civil union but against full marriage.

In both a December 21 interview with the Advocate’s Kerry Eleveld and at a December 22 press conference, the president indicated that his views on the matter are changing, but he still currently favors a “strong civil union” as his preferred way to give equal rights to same-sex couples.

However, while running for the Illinois state senate in 1996, he came out in support of full same-sex marriage, four years before civil unions were first enacted in Vermont.

Outlines, a Chicago LGBT newspaper, asked then-senatorial candidate Obama about marriage. “I favor legalizing same-sex marriage, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages,” he replied.

During Obama’s presidential campaign, reporters contacted the Windy City Times--which had purchased Outlines in 2000--for Obama’s previous positions. The story they found online summarized his answers, but did not include the exact wording. The reporters were also given summaries, but the Chicago paper released the full text of Obama’s replies a year later.

Tracy Baim, in a January 14, 2009 analysis of Obama’s marriage positions, noted, “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.” That interview came when Obama was running for the U.S. Senate.

Last week, though, Obama indicated a shift back.

“I struggle with this,” he told Eleveld. “I have many people who work for me, who are in powerful, strong, long-lasting gay or lesbian unions.”

He now supports “a strong civil union that provides them the protections and the legal rights that married couples have. And I think that’s the right thing to do.”

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

Although the interview came a day before Obama signed the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the biggest LGBT policy victory of his administration, it is unlikely that he will put forward a successful repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act in the next two years, especially with an incoming Republican majority in the House of Representatives and a weakened Democratic majority in the Senate.

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