New Book Says Obama Was The One Dragging His Heels On Marriage Equality

gay-for-obamaThere’s a new book coming out Tuesday by Jo Becker, a reporter for The New York Times, that chronicles the story for marriage equality over the past several years, and it’s not exactly a testimonial to the political bravery of President Obama. According to the book, Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage EqualityObama was among the last in his Administration to decide it was time to embrace marriage equality, and when he did he followed the script suggested by the Republican who ran George W. Bush’s notoriously antigay re-election effort.

Becker had unprecedented access to the main players in the marriage equality debate on the grounds that she would withhold her reporting until the Supreme Court had made its decision. As a result, her reporting has behind-the-scenes details that clear up a lot of questions about the Administration’s move toward marriage equality.

For one, Becker makes it clear that politics was the biggest factor in the White House’s decision-making process. Prior to the president finally embracing marriage equality, Obama’s advisor David Axelrod told Becker that his boss “has never been comfortable with his position.” That’s a nice way of saying that the Obama who embraced marriage in 1996 was the real Obama all along. His position changed solely for political reasons.

And going into the re-election campaign, the White House was paralyzed with fear about marriage equality, recognizing that supporting it would motivate many younger voters but afraid that it would alienate others. In November 2011, another Obama advisor, David Plouffe, reached out to Ken Mehlman, the architect of George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign, which was fueled by anti-marriage messages. Plouffe asked Mehlman, who had since come out as gay, for advice on how the president should handle “evolving.”

Mehlman had surveyed thousands of voters and didn’t believe that risks were as great as Obama’s team believed. He told Plouffe to schedule a television appearance with a female journalist and talk about the decision as one based upon family discussions. After that, he heard nothing.

In the end, it was Vice President Joe Biden who broke the logjam. The book relates a visit that Biden made to the home of Michael Lombardo, an HBO executive, and his husband, Sonny Ward, an architect. The couple have two children, 5 and 7. At the event, Chad Griffin, head of the Human Rights Campaign, put Biden on the spot by asking him for his position on gay marriage. To everyone’s surprised, Biden, who was clearly moved by the couple’s children, said “my job — our job — is to keep this momentum rolling to the inevitable.”

A month later, on Meet the Press, Biden said he was “absolutely comfortable” with marriage equality. The White House flipped, but Michele Obama felt that it was a blessing in disguise. The president’s staff hastily arranged an interview with Robin Roberts, following the script that Mehlman suggested. As he was leaving for the interview, Michelle told her husband, “Enjoy this day. You are free.”

In the end, the president’s caution was misplaced. Marriage equality was not the make-or-break issue that he feared. The question that the book raises is why Obama put politics before principle for so long, when in his heart he seems to have known better. Ultimately, that’s a question that only he can answer.

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  • Mezaien

    Stop call yourself “GAY” be what you are “HOMOSEXUAL LESBIANS”, Make or get children AND for the one that are really whiter then I am tell to suck eggs F.U.C.K.I.N.G Christian white.

  • Polaro

    @Mezaien: Huh? That just confuses me. I can’t tell if you just don’t know English well, or are just an illiterate troll.

    OK, anyway, Obama has not been the bravest president. He has made a lot of bad compromises, e.g. ACA. He should be thanking Joe Biden for forcing his hand on Marriage Equality. It may be what he ends up being remembered for.

  • BJ McFrisky

    No, no, no! Not true! Obama LOVES us! He was declared the “First Gay President” by Newsweek! He may have said he believes marriage is between a man and a woman . . . but changed his mind when the DNC told him to . . . on second thought . . . could he be just another politician pandering to certain groups to gain favor in elections? Nah, that would make him shallow and disingenuous, and we all know that Democrats are pure of heart and above being anything but 100% honest.

  • Lvng1tor

    @BJMCFRISKY @POLARO Gee all of you guys live in the most amazing Black and White world. Must be amazing to be able to see and know that everything is an either or! I love that our President is supposed to be absolutely perfect and please and think the same way every fucking American thinks he should. Cause that’s possible. I Love that POTUS doesn’t have to play the political game at all and compromise, understand, evolve or make deals me may not want to! Sarcasm! BTW BIDEN KICKS ASS and doesn’t get the respect he deserves. Not Sarcasm….Love that guy! @MEZAIEN did you take your meds today? Do you need someone to call 911? Is your left arm feeling tingly? Just let us know hun, OK!

  • Cam

    @BJ McFrisky:

    Yes, BJ, as opposed to McCain, the man who ran an add supporting AZ. bill saying gay’s shouldn’t be allowed to adopt, or Mitt Romney who voiced support of Prop 8 etc…

    You can keep supporting anti-gay bigotry every chance you get, but your agenda is clear.

  • Cam

    Sure, Obama was a douche on Marriage, but lets look at another area here.

    HRC was TELLING Obama (Don’t worry about it, we’ll give you cover) They themselves seemed so ashamed of being gay that they thought advocating for civil rights would be bad for politicians, so they said there and promised the Politicians that they would keep the community in check.

    Thank goodness the grass roots folks told HRC to go F-Themselves, and after they did sit-in’s in Pelosi’s office she forced the White House’s hand on DADT repeal.

    So again, Obama dragged his feet, but people like Joe Solomnase was telling him there was no reason for him to move. They are the real traitors.

  • Lvng1tor

    @Mezaien: What does “F.U.C.K.I.N.G.” stand for? Cause I think you think it stands for something? Did an elf who lives in your glove compartment or maybe just a voice you hear while flossing your teeth (assuming you still have any) tell you to say it? I’m intrigued.

  • Tackle

    Ok. I think we all kinda knew this, so why is this presented as some BIG revelation? That’s right, a “book” is involved. Yes Obama was not an initial supporter of marriage equality ( at least publicly) and was hesitant about the political ramifications ( just like Hillary). So he tested the waters with his VP. That’s sone big [email protected] news! And she got all the world’s attention! Book is definitely not gonna do well. The events were just around the corner and it’s really a non-story. The main thing is that we got marriage equality, and are getting closer to all states recognizing it.

  • Franklin

    @Cam: Duh. Every major event social change in politics throughout history has been political, from the Emancipation Proclamation that “freed the slaves”, to the Civil rights act. That doesn’t take away from the fact that had Mitt Romney or any other Republican been in the White House in 2012, you’d still be waiting to hear a sitting president come out in favor of marriage equality.

  • Franklin

    Sorry Cam. That comment was directed at BJMcFrisky.

  • Desert Boy

    Obama has always been a timid fellow. From supporting to marriage equality to killing Osama bin Laden. The American people craved LBJ but instead we got Pooty Tang.

  • BJ McFrisky

    @Cam: The word “gay’s” is possessive, not plural. For the love of God, proofread your comments before attempting to display your superior intellect.

    @Franklin: I’m not against gay marriage, just like I’m not against abortion, but considering neither issue will ever affect my life, I feel I have to right to be apathetic about both.

  • jwrappaport

    @Franklin: Your argument is unpersuasive. There have been plenty of politicians willing to expend political capital to do the right thing – FDR and the New Deal along with Teddy Roosevelt and his conservation efforts come to mind. Moreover, Obama hesitated even when it wasn’t risky, particularly in his second term. Politicians are generally risk averse, but Obama takes it to a new level: I can’t think of a speech he’s given that didn’t sound and appear calculated down to the blinking.

    Rights and dignity aren’t things people have to ask for nicely, and they’re not things people have to be grateful for once they’ve been wrested from the oppressor. Yes, Romney would have been far worse, and I’m glad I voted for Obama but that doesn’t mean I’ll be an apologist for a President who doesn’t give a damn about us aside from how we can aggrandize his influence.

  • jwrappaport

    @BJ McFrisky: That’s a great attitude: if it doesn’t affect you personally, be apathetic. Isn’t it a basic moral principle that you should care about your fellow man irrespective of your own position?

  • Polaro

    @Lvng1tor: I voted for President Obama twice and would do so again. That does not mean I had a lobotomy or can’t express the facts as I see them. President Obama is not the leader I had hoped for, but he is a far better President than his predecessor was or his opponents could have been. I said the same thing about Clinton. Because the republicans suck we’ve given a pass to the lackluster performance of the democrats. Its a real shame for America. That said, when pushed, he held his ground. But he did not lead.

  • Cam

    @BJ McFrisky:

    And again, BJ will desperately try to deflect from having to answer any comment pointing out that he never does anything here but defend right wing bigots, attack gays etc…

  • erikwm

    Maybe it’s true many politicians pander to certain groups to gain favor in elections.

    At least you could support the ones pandering to us. After elected, they typically do make good on their word — this story an example. Instead, you support the guys who want to do us harm and think that’s OK because the guys willing to help us may not all be “pure of heart.”

    It makes no logical sense.

  • erikwm

    @BJ McFrisky: My previous comment was for you.

  • jazz4108

    Obama has done more for this community and the community has been able to do more on Obamas watch then any time in history. If we had a republican president we would have been lucky to get a vote to the supreme court which would have went the other way as the republicans dont tend to put people who are not conservative in high ranking places. Our country could have done a little better but for the mess George left and the kids that play in the house of rep we should be glad were still standing strong as a nation. Just a few months ago 99 percent of Republicans in the house voted to keep the government shut down and default on its bills to try to pass there own agenda against The affordable Health Act. Its like they are litle babies that didnt get there way. I hope american votes in mass numbers this fall to oust those clowns in the House and let the Democrats have control then we should see enda and other descriminatory programs finally get a vote.

  • hotboyvb81

    like he’s dragging his feet on ENDA…..

  • Blackceo

    Whatever. I think he always supported marriage equality. It was the politics of timing that was his issue. As with many social issues, timing and politics has always been intertwined. If you don’t understand that then you don’t understand politics so I don’t see the point of trying to undermine him now. I believe he supported it as a junior senator but being President of the United States made him have to carefully craft his words and then make a definititve statement when the timing was right. There has been more progress for the gay rights movement under his administration than any other and certainly more than we would’ve had under a McCain or Romney administration.

    So, I had a little extra in this post but it was auto-flagged. I don’t get what I would’ve said that would have flagged it other than using the word s/0/c/i/a/l/i/s/m which I said I don’t get why people call Obama that since he is a left leaning centrist and the worst s/0/c/i/a/l/i/s/t ever!!!

  • BJ McFrisky

    @erikwm: I never supported an anti-gay politician, locally or nationally. Sorry if that doesn’t fit your ideology to rationalize my existence as the only gay man ever to exist who’s not a tantrum-struck liberal, but like it or not, we do exist.

  • stanhope

    Obama has been a tremendous disappointment! While some good thing s have happened on his watch, most had little real genesis with him. He completely squandered his first 100 days. He is a man of polls not conscience…the reverse of my hero Joe Biden. I am hoping for a Clinton/Biden ticket though I know it won’t happen.

  • stanhope

    @Blackceo: he gets no pass from me…he’s Black, he has no excuse.

  • Blackceo


    What does him being Black have to do with it?

  • tjr101

    Anyone who believes Obama never was for marriage equality is naive. The guy is a politician not a saint, ofcourse he made decisions based on polling. Duh!

    @stanhope: What does his race have to do with this?

  • Franklin

    @jwrappaport: You’re comparing the New Deal and conservation the issues like Slavery and integration of the races? Sorry, but those two issues were two of the most contentious issues ever to face this country. Hell, the country split apart and fell into civil war over this issue of slavery.

  • manjoguy

    @BJ McFrisky: I’m sure Obama will love(“…Obama loves us…” any solid constituency that will blindly support him.

  • sangsue

    He did it. Game over.

  • jar

    @jazz4108: Sorry, but your talking points are wrong. In comments to a story about Obama’s self-interest regarding marriage equality, it takes a fair amount of temerity to assert that he has done more for our community than anyone. You don’t even limit it to presidents (which would still be wrong). You seem to be equally ignorant of the recent decisions that endorsed same sex marriage. Obama had nothing to do with either of last summer’s cases, so your claim that they would not have come down but for his presidency is ludicrous to the point of embarrassment.

  • jar

    @Blackceo: Okay, but we do have the right to assess his morality in choosing to play political games with a human rights issue, especially a human rights issue that he apparently supports.

  • jazz4108

    @jar: my point is that if you dont recall Obama selected the new members of the supreme Court and without them this would never had gotten as far as it has. I get it you do not like Obama but don’t attack me on a article about Obama when its pretty safe to assume that I ment Obama not others in the community. I believe my points were right on target and I am sorry that you diagree but that is the beauty of America as you have the right too. Now when hopefully Ms. Clinton takes office we will be able to contiune what we started under Obama and if you do not want to believe my opinions look no further than the human rights campaign which fights these battles daily and they 100% agree that Obama has done more for lgtb community then we have ever seen.

  • Cam

    @BJ McFrisky:

    BJ, you have supported and defended every right wing anti-gay person talked about on here. Nice try.

  • jar

    @jazz4108: It’s a real stretch to applaud Obama for the gay marriage cases simply because he appointed two SC justices, but no mendacity is too much in the defense of Obama, eh? First, you cannot prove that no two other justices would have ruled with the majority because that did not come to pass. Furthermore, Kagan is an establishment justice with a fairly conservative background, especially with regard to executive power issues. Not a great choice IMO. You would have a point if you could demonstrate that Obama chose these two justices because of their views on gay marriage (a position with which Obama publicly disagreed at the time he nominated each of them), but he has never stated such.

    It’s somehow appropriate that you cite the HRC for your claim that Obama has “done more for lgbt community than we have ever seen” (do you have an actual cite for this?) since if the HRC had its way, those cases would not have been undertaken. Edie Windsor was told by HRC and Lambda to shut up and wait until the “correct time” to fight the legal battle she undertook. HRC has a pretty terrible record as an advocacy group, as it is much more interested in retaining its place of position than rocking the boat. HRC has not had much credibility for years (at least since its endorsement of republican candidates over Dems because it wanted to prove that it does not only endorse Dems, policies be damned). As the post-Windsor legal actions have shown, HRC is now largely ignored by the rank and file because of its poor history of obtaining results on our behalf. So, I would not be surprised that it would make such a specious claim re Obama, although I’d still like to see the citation.

    Talk to Chelsea Manning or Dan Choi and the countless others who forced Obama’s hand to recant his offensive separate, but equal position. You’ll get a fairer assessment of Obama from them.

  • Cam


    Speaking of Dan Choi remember when HRC attempted that “Whisper Campaign” and spent all of their time trying to Slander Choi rather than fight for gay rights because he DARED to get some national attention for the cause.

  • jar

    @Cam: I do. HRC has been an abomination for decades. They lost me when they endorsed republicans just to show their breadth, notwithstanding the party’s vocal opposition to us.

  • sejjo

    “…why Obama put politics before principle for so long, when in his heart he seems to have known better.”

    Is the author kidding with this question? Does she have anything resembling an adult understanding of politics? Nobody gives a shit about what your heart knows, they care more about your head. Obama, for all of his perfections and imperfections is a politician and if the author seriously does not know the answer to her own question then she shouldn’t even be taking on this subject.

Comments are closed.