President Barack Obama insisted Tuesday that his former top political aide David Axelrod’s got it wrong when it comes to Obama’s position on same-sex marriage and whether it changed over time.
Axelrod wrote in his book published earlier Tuesday that Obama lied about his position on the issue for the sake of political expediency, writing that Obama had actually supported gay marriage for years. In coming out in support of same-sex couples’ right to marry in May 2012, Obama had cited “the evolution that I went through.”
“I think David is mixing up my personal feelings with my position on the issue,” Obama said in an interview with BuzzFeed News. “I always felt that same-sex couples should be able to enjoy the same rights, legally, as anybody else, and so it was frustrating to me not to, I think, be able to square that with what were a whole bunch of religious sensitivities out there.”
Obama had previously supported civil unions for gay couples and explained Tuesday that he used to think that was “a sufficient way of squaring the circle.” But eventually, he told Buzzfeed on Tuesday, Obama changed his political position because of “the pain and the sense of stigma that was being placed on same-sex couples who are friends” of his.
But in his book, “Believer: My Forty Years in Poltics,” Axelrod suggests politics played a bigger role in Obama’s public position on the issue throughout his first presidential campaign and into the first term of his presidency.
“Gay marriage was a particularly nagging issue. For as long as we had been working together, Obama had felt a tug between his personal views and the politics of gay marriage,” Axelrod writes. “Opposition to gay marriage was particularly strong in the black church, and as he ran for higher office, he grudgingly accepted the counsel of more pragmatic folks like me, and modified his position to support civil unions rather than marriage, which he would term a ‘sacred union.’”
And Axelrod recalled that Obama said he just didn’t “feel my marriage is somehow threatened by the gay couple next door.”
It was just one example of the “recurring tension between Obama the idealist and Obama the politician,” Axelrod wrote.
“Obama never felt comfortable with his compromise and, no doubt, compromised position,” Axelrod writes. “He routinely stumbled over the question when it came up in debates or interviews. ‘I’m just not very good at bulls—ting,’ he said with a sigh after one such awkward exchange.”
Axelrod also cited a questionnaire from 1996 previously cited in news reports as evidence of Obama’s longtime support for gay marriage.
While running for his first term in the Illinois State Senate, Obama signed a questionnaire in which he answered that he “favored legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.” The questionnaire came to light in 2009, days before Obama’s inauguration.
“I had no doubt that this was his heartfelt belief,” Axelrod said of the questionnaire. “He also knew his view was way out in front of the public’s.”
But Obama insisted Tuesday that “the notion that somehow I was always in favor of marriage per se [for gay couples] isn’t quite accurate.”
“The old questionnaire,” Obama said in the interview, “is an example of struggling with what was a real issue at the time, which is, how do you make sure that people’s rights are enjoyed and these religious sensitivities were taken into account?”
Predicting Supreme Court victory for gay marriage
What is clear now is that Obama now wholly supports same-sex marriage, and he’s predicting the Supreme Court will legalize gay marriage – now allowed in 37 states – once and for all this year.
Obama’s comments come after the nation’s high court refused to grant temporary delays to states that have had their laws restricting marriage to one man and one woman invalidated, sending a signal that justices are leaning in favor of allowing gay marriage in a ruling expected this June.
“My sense is that the Supreme Court is about to make a shift, one that I welcome, which is to recognize that – having hit a critical mass of states that have recognized same-sex marriage – it doesn’t make sense for us to now have this patchwork system,” Obama said in the BuzzFeed News interview.
“It’s time to recognize that under the equal protection clause of the United States [Constitution], same-sex couples should have the same rights as anybody else,” he said.