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Obama's views on gay marriage have been 'evolving' for a while

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Today, the president refuses to take a definitive stance on the issue, yet his supporters insist he should support gay marriage, while his detractors point out that he has previously opposed it.  As the White House explains, Obama's views on gay marriage are always flip-flopping "evolving."

The approval of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in the state of North Carolina has reportedly "disappointed" President Barack Obama.  "The president has long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same-sex couples," Obama North Carolina campaign spokesman Cameron French said in a statement Tuesday. “He believes the North Carolina measure singles out and discriminates against committed gay and lesbian couples, which is why he did not support it," said French.

This response from the campaign indeed shows an "evolution" in Obama's views since he ran for office in 2008.  Just days before the election, Obama told MTV that he believed marriage is "between a man and a woman" and that he is "not in favor of gay marriage."  But even though he doesn't believe in gay marriage, Obama supports civil unions for same-sex couples and insisted that decisions about the title of marriage should be left to the states.... that was, until he reversed his support of the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Oh, and states should totally have the right to decide the issue of marriage... er, unless you're North Carolina, apparently.

Rewind to 1996 when Obama launched his political career by running for the Illinois state Senate.  At that time, he made strong statements lending his "unequivocal support" for gay marriage, not civil unions. "I would support and co-sponsor a state civil rights bill for gays and lesbians," Obama told the publication.  "I favor legalizing same-sex marriage, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages." 

The Windy City Times noted Obama's flip-flop in 2009, coincidentally labeling it as his "evolving position":

President-elect Obama's answer to a 1996 Outlines newspaper question on marriage was: "I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages." There was no use of the phrase "civil unions".

This answer is among those included in this week's Windy City Times feature on Obama's evolving position on gay marriage. Windy City Times also includes his answers to the candidate questionnaire of IMPACT, at one time a gay political action committee in Illinois. In that survey he also stated his support of same-sex marriage.

During the final weeks of the presidential campaign last fall, several media outlets contacted Windy City Times because of an old internet story from the 1996 Illinois state Senate race. In that campaign, Outlines newspaper reported that 13th District candidate Barack Obama supported gay marriage. Reporters wanted to know what exactly Obama had said.

Outlines summarized the results in that 1996 article by Trudy Ring, but did not list exact answers to questions. In that article Outlines did note that Obama was a supporter of same-sex marriage and that article was never challenged or corrected by Obama. Just recently, the original Outlines and IMPACT surveys were found in the newspaper's archives.

Obama's views have clearly been "evolving" for some time now, most conveniently shifting when he ran for U.S. Senate and for president.

So what's driving the evolution of Mr. Obama's views on gay marriage?

But Mr. Obama's team is wary of a high-profile embrace of same-sex marriage. They worry it could drive turnout among Republicans in November - in the 2004 election, the Bush reelection team used referenda on the issue to bring voters to the polls. Spotlighting same-sex marriage could also suggest to voters that Mr. Obama is focused on social issues instead of the struggling economy, the issue voters overwhelmingly cite as their top concern. It's notable that while the president has released a statement opposing a controversial North Carolina amendment Constitutionally defining marriage as between one man and one woman, he declined to mention it when he visited the state last month.

Though gay rights activists have been pushing for support for same-sex marriage to be included in this year's Democratic Party platform, few expect Mr. Obama to come out in favor of same-sex marriage before November. They hope, however, that the country's first African-American president will at the very least rally behind what they see as the defining civil rights cause of the era in his second term, when he doesn't have to worry about reelection.

Update: Obama has officially, completely flip-flopped from his position in 2008, announcing today that he believes same-sex marriage should be legal. "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," the president told ABC News.

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