Looking Back: Obama’s Evolution On Same-Sex Marriage Through the Years

Yesterday Barack Obama became the first American president to support same-sex marriage while in office. He’s undergone a very public and protracted (and somewhat  convoluted) “evolution” from his days as an Illinois senator, when he held a more liberal stance on marriage equality. On the road to the White House he backtracked (clinging to his faith) but eventually the President came forward to stand on the right side of history.

Click through to look back at Obama’s statements that lead up to his historic announcement on marriage equality.


I favor legalizing same-sex marriages and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.”

—Illinois State Senate candidate Barack Obama, answering a questionnaire from Chicago’s Outlines in 1996. His team later retracted the statement, claiming it was filled out by someone else. In 1998, Obama answered the same questionnaire with “undecided.”

I don’t think marriage is a civil right. What I believe is that marriage is between a man and a woman… performing something before God, and it’s not simply the two persons who are meeting. That doesn’t mean that that necessarily translates into a position on public policy or with respect to civil unions. What it does mean is that we have a set of traditions in place that, I think, need to be preserved, but I also think we need to make sure that gays and lesbians have the same set of basic rights that are in place.”

—talking about his opposition to same-sex marriage, on Chicago public television in 2004.


I was reminded that it is my obligation not only as an elected official in a pluralistic society, but also as a Christian, to remain open to the possibility that my unwillingness to support gay marriage is misguided.”

from Obama’s 2006 memoir, Audacity of Hope.


The government has to treat all citizens equally. I am a strong supporter not of a weak version of civil unions, but of a strong version in which the rights that are conferred at the federal level… are compatible [to marriage]. When it comes to federal rights, there are over 1,100 rights that right now are not being given to same-sex couples. I think that’s unacceptable.”

—pushing for strong civil unions, at a 2007 Democratic primary debate hosted by HRC and Logo.


I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. I am not in favor of gay marriage. But when you start playing around with the Constitution, just to prohibit somebody who cares about another person, it just seems to me that’s not what America’s about.”

—just days before the 2008 presidential election, on MTV.


I’ve called on Congress to repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act to help end discrimination against same-sex couples in this country. Now, I want to add, we have a duty to uphold existing law but I believe we must do so in a way that does not exacerbate old divides. And fulfilling this duty in upholding the law in no way lessens my commitment to reversing this law. I’ve made that clear.”

—during a Pride reception in June 2009.

I have been to this point unwilling to sign on to same-sex marriage primarily because of my understandings of the traditional definitions of marriage. But I also think you’re right that attitudes evolve, including mine. And I think that it is an issue that I wrestle with and think about because I have a whole host of friends who are in gay partnerships.”

—the first mention of his ongoing evolution, in an interview with liberal bloggers in October 2010.

I think it’s important for us to work through these issues because each community is going to be different—each state is going to be different. I think what you’re seeing is a profound recognition on the part of the American people that gays and lesbians and transgender persons are our brothers, our sisters, our children, our cousins, our friends, our co-workers—and that they’ve got to be treated like every other American. And I think that principle will win out. It’s not going to be perfectly smooth, and it turns out that the President—I’ve discovered since I’ve been in this office—can’t dictate precisely how this process moves.”

—at a White House press conference on the passage of marriage equality in New York State, in June 2011.

Every single American—gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, transgender—every single American deserves to be treated equally in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of our society. It’s a pretty simple proposition.”

—at the HRC National Dinner in October 2011.

I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors, when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships—same-sex relationships—who are raising kids together… When I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained—even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a 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.”

—announcing his support for full marriage equality, on ABC News on May 9, 2012


Don't forget to share: