5 things to know about how Obama 'evolved' his support of same-sex marriage

Mike Krumboltz, Yahoo News

For years, when asked about his position on same-sex marriage, President Obama would say that it was "evolving." How that evolution occurred, and the insiders and outsiders who helped to push it along, is addressed in an in-depth article from journalist Jo Becker in the current New York Times Magazine.

The article is an excerpt from Becker's book, “Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality," which hits shelves Tuesday.

The excerpt includes many details on why the president changed his mind. There was a public push, of course, with national opinion shifting in favor of same-sex marriage, but there was also a concerted effort by advocates. Here are some of the most memorable details from Becker's piece.

1. In April 2012, Vice President Joe Biden visited the home of of Michael Lombardo and his husband, Sonny Ward, to meet with a group of gay Democrats about same-sex marriage advocacy and the upcoming campaign for re-election. According to Becker, the meeting had a profound effect on Biden, especially when he met the two children of Lombardo and Ward.

Chad Griffin, who was also present at the home and, according to Becker, played a significant part in advocating within the White House for marriage equality, asked Biden if the vice president could "talk in a frank, honest way about your own personal views as it relates to equality, but specifically as it relates to marriage equality.”

Biden was taken off guard, but obliged. Via the New York Times Magazine:

“I look at those two beautiful kids,” Biden began. “I wish everybody could see this. All you got to do is look in the eyes of those kids. And no one can wonder, no one can wonder whether or not they are cared for and nurtured and loved and reinforced. And folks, what’s happening is, everybody is beginning to see it.

“Things are changing so rapidly, it’s going to become a political liability in the near term for an individual to say, ‘I oppose gay marriage.’ Mark my words.”

Having started down this road, he seemed incapable of stopping. People his children’s age could not understand why gay couples should not be allowed to marry, he said. “ ‘I mean, what’s the problem, Dad?’

“And my job — our job — is to keep this momentum rolling to the inevitable.”

Biden made similar remarks two weeks later on "Meet the Press." Whether intentionally or not, Obama's hand was being forced and the timetable was speeding up.

2. In 1996, Obama, then an Illinois state Senate candidate, signed a questionnaire stating, "I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages."  In 2000, when he ran for the House, Obama said he was undecided about same-sex marriage, according to the Times Magazine profile. 

Via the New York Times Magazine:

By the time he campaigned for the presidency, he had staked out an even safer political position: Citing his Christian faith, he said he believed marriage to be the sacred union of a man and a woman.

Obama's top advisers never believed the president really opposed same-sex marriage. David Axelrod told the story's author, Jo Becker, that Obama was "never comfortable with his position." 

Via the New York Times Magazine:

The assumption going into the 2012 campaign was that there was little to be gained politically from the president’s coming down firmly in favor of same-sex marriage.

 3. Nevertheless, the question in the Obama administration wasn't "Should we come out in support of same-sex marriage?" but "When should we?" Before the 2012 election or after?

"In particular, his political advisers were worried that his endorsement could splinter the coalition needed to win a second term, depressing turnout among socially conservative African-Americans, Latinos and white working-class Catholics in battleground states." There was also concern that an official message of support would drive Republicans to the polls in greater numbers.

Then, much to the alarm of the Oval Office, Biden announced his support for marriage equality on "Meet the Press."

4. Michelle Obama saw how Biden's remarks pushed the timetable up as a good thing.

Via the New York Times Magazine:

Some of Obama’s top advisers urged him to take Biden to task for forcing his hand, but he refused. The first lady saw the whole thing as a blessing in disguise. The endless debate was over. You don’t have to dance around this issue anymore, she told her husband over breakfast on Wednesday, in a conversation she relayed afterward to several top White House officials.

“Enjoy this day,” she said as he headed off for his interview. “You are free.”

He then went on air with ABC News' Robin Roberts and expressed his support for marriage equality.

5. In the end, all that worrying over the impact on the 2012 election was for nothing. It was "the bomb that didn't go off," according to Dan Pfeiffer, who was White House communications director at the time.

 Via the New York Times Magazine:

In the months after the announcement, the coalition that Obama needed to win a second term did not crumble. To the campaign’s surprise, Election Day exit polls showed that endorsing same-sex marriage did not hurt him among key constituencies — Catholics and Latinos, for instance, supported it. And the backing motivated Obama’s progressive base, including voters ages 18 to 30, who broke decisively his way. In addition, voters in three states for the first time approved ballot measures legalizing same-sex marriage, while those in a fourth voted down a ban. [Ken] Mehlman was correct in predicting that it would do little to drive Republican turnout.

  Follow Mike Krumboltz on Twitter (@mikekrumboltz).

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