Should Obama Endorse Gay Marriage?

Doing so before the election has some risks, but it could help re-energize segments of his base.

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There is a long-held belief that Obama is a closeted supporter of marriage equality. Legend has it that when running for the Illinois Senate in 1996, he filled out a survey for a local newspaper indicating his support for gay rights and marriage. In the survey, Obama’s typed responses said, “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.”

But by 1998, Obama had a somewhat different take on the issue. In another questionnaire, he indicated “undecided” in response to a question about whether Illinois should legalize same-sex marriage. A peculiar change in position, but probably a politically calculated one.

By 2008, presidential candidate Obama had come out in support only of civil unions (pdf) and not marriage. Perhaps the environment in 2008 didn’t allow Obama to announce his stance publicly, but maybe 2012 will be different. One of the earliest signs that Obama was rethinking the issue came in 2009 when the administration announced that it was no longer defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court, saying that it considered the law unconstitutional.

But one group is certainly a factor in the administration’s decision about whether to support marriage equality: socially conservative African Americans. They may not jump for joy if President Obama grants equal marriage rights to gay couples. It is important to note, however, that polling immediately after the administration’s shift on DOMA revealed that the decision didn’t affect Obama’s support from socially conservative blacks.

President Obama likes to quote Martin Luther King’s famous observation “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” It appears that perhaps Obama, after a long evolutionary process, is finally ready to bend in the direction of equality and full marriage rights for all people.

Zerlina Maxwell is a political analyst and staff writer for, where she writes about national politics, candidates and specific policy and culture issues. She writes frequently about domestic violence, sexual assault, victim blaming and gender inequality. Follow her on Twitter

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