Obama Punts On Same-Sex Marriage, Again

President Obama came close to endorsing same-sex marriage last night, but stopped short yet again

Last night, President Obama spoke at a campaign fundraiser hosted by a a number of gay rights group and, once again, he punted on the issue that everyone is looking for him to comment on:

President Barack Obama called for equal rights for gay couples Thursday, but stopped short of voicing support for legalizing same-sex marriage at a gala LGBT fundraiser held in the heart of a state whose legislature is on the verge of taking a vote on the issue.

The president couched the notion of rights for the nation’s gay community in the framework of civil rights, casting his own election as part of an evolutionary process in the nation over the last two-and-a-half years, one that also involved economic woes and overseas wars.

In fact, the president spent the first half of his speech on standard stump touchstones — the nation’s lost jobs, the impact on the middle class, the killing of Osama bin Laden.

And instead of discussing his stand on the issue — one on which his aides have said he’s “evolving” — the president described the battle underway in New York as a hallmark of democracy. He described states as the correct setting for such debates to play out.

But even as he and the event’s hosts ticked off a list of legislative items that had favored the gay community — emcee Neil Patrick Harris, who Obama joked was “openly terrific,” described him as the most gay-friendly president in history — some in the crowd were clearly looking for more.

“I believe that gay and lesbian couples deserve the same legal rights as every other couple in this country,” Obama told about 600 people in the crowd who paid $1250 a ticket and cheered him vigorously when he took the stage.

But when he started discussing other areas of the law where he’d pushed for equality, someone in the crowd interrupted, shouting: “Marriage!”

“I heard you guys,” Obama said, interrupting his speech, to laughter. “Believe it or not, I anticipated that somebody might” raise it.

He pointed to his administration’s decision not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, along with the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell for those serving in the military.

“Part of the reason that DOMA doesn’t make sense is that traditionally marriage has been decided by the states,” Obama said. “And right now I understand there’s a little debate going on here in New York about whether to join five other states and D.C. in allowing civil marriage for gay couples.”

He added that New York is “is doing exactly what democracies are supposed to do. There’s a debate; there’s deliberation about what it means here in New York to treat people fairly in the eyes of the law.”

“That’s the power of our democratic system. It’s not always pretty. There are setbacks. There are frustrations. But … that’s how we will achieve change that is lasting — change that just a few years ago would have seemed impossible.”

The crowd was receptive — and applauded at key moments — but the lack of a focus on marriage hung in the air, and the hecklers continued to yell out sporadically.

“Do you support it?” called out one. “Say yes to marriage!” shouted another.

Here’s video of the key moment from the speech:

Allahpundit thinks that the President pretty much suckered his supporters:

Check out how close he gets to endorsing gay marriage without ever quite endorsing it. All the rhetoric about equality and discrimination and progress and change that would have seemed impossible a few years ago sounds like a prelude to the big announcement — but he never quite arrives there. He gets raucous applause for saying “gay couples deserve the same legal rights as every other couple in this country,” but that’s an endorsement of civil unions, not the big M, and no doubt he’d spin it that way if a voter ever confronted him about it. The second clip is an even lamer dodge: When he finally gets around to mentioning the New York bill, the best he can do is congratulate the locals for taking up the issue and having an ol’ fashioned public debate about it because, hey, that’s what democracy is all about

HuffPo’s Sam Stein, who was at the event, notes that those in attendance didn’t seem all that upset that President Obama didn’t go all the way in voicing support for marriage equality:

“Everyone in the room would have been thrilled if he had come out for marriage equality,” said Sarah Holland, an attendee. “I think for some people it rang hollow for him to be talking about equality and not going the full distance.

“At the same time,” she added, “people in that room are politically astute.”

Holland said Obama was the president who had made the most impact in her lifetime. “I think he really believes in equality,” she said.

That the president could earn plaudits even while falling short on the issue was not a surprise. The crowd at the Sheraton may have included a few vocal, disappointed activists, but the vast majority of attendees didn’t pay top dollar (tickets started at $1,250) to heckle.

“He has done a lot,” said Andrew Rabenstein, another attendee. “A lot of it is a matter of illustrating what he has done in good messaging. … As every constituent group, we want 100 percent of what we can get. But getting 70 to 80 percent is better than anyone else has gotten. Look at the Hispanic groups, which are still waiting for a breakthrough on immigration reform.”

Greg Sargent, meanwhile, thinks that the President actually sent a signal to his gay supporters about what they can expect if he’s re-elected:

Given the context — he was in New York, where gay marriage is on the verge of becoming legal, and he alluded directly to his audience’s impatience with him — the most plausible interpretation here is that he is appealing for gay support in 2012 in exchange for the tacit assurance that he’ll come out for gay marriage in his second term.

Amid the continuing controversy over his “evolving” position on gay marriage, this seems like a pretty clear effort to convert a problem that had been dampening the enthusiasm of gay advocates into another reason to work for his reelection.

There is some political sense in the President not emphasizing this issue prior to the 2012 elections. Despite the fact that recent polling shows majority support for same-sex marriage, the margins in those polls are still pretty thin and the issue itself remains a hot button issue on the right. A full-throated Presidential endorsement of same-sex marriage before the elections would likely energize the social conservative base of the GOP even more, and could do damage to Democratic candidates further down the ballot. Additionally, there’s very little the President can do legislatively on this issue. Repealing DOMA, all of it, would be helpful no doubt, but that simply isn’t in the cards right now. This is, as the President put it, a state issue right now. Put simply, there is no political value in the President bringing the issue up now.

Of course, Obama knows that there really isn’t anywhere else for his gay supporters to go. Groups like the Log Cabin Republicans and GOProud notwithstanding, it seems fairly clear that the GOP is not a friendly place for homosexuals, and it’s perfectly understandable why they wouldn’t want to associate with a party where anti-gay rhetoric from people like Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Tim Pawlenty, and Rick Santorum is, for the most part, de rigueur. Republicans who don’t endorse the virulent anti-gay rhetoric of the social conservatives, like Gary Johnson, Ron Paul, and Jon Hunstman, are, for the most part, rejected by the GOP base. Since Obama knows that his LGBT supporters really don’t have anywhere to go, he doesn’t have to expend the political capital that would be required for a pre-election endorsement of same-sex marriage.

Personally, though, I’ve got to say that it would be nice to see the President get with the times and endorse same-sex marriage like Dick Cheney has.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Do you mean to say that the GOP isn’t a friendly place for homosexuals or that the GOP isn’t a friendly place for the homosexual agenda, becuase, you know, that’s not quite the same thing.

  2. Neil Hudelson says:

    Ah yes, that scary homosexual agenda: equal rights for all citizens.

    So essentially you’re saying “The GOP welcomes all citizens, including homosexuals, so long as the homosexuals know that they are not equal to non homosexuals.”

    Yeah, how could anyone think that the GOP isn’t a friendly place for any LGBT?

  3. Rob in CT says:

    Charles: LOL. Literally. LOL. That term, “homosexual agenda” tells one all one needs to know about the GOP’s thoughts (more like feelings) about gay people. Also what Neil said.

    As for the President: he continues to be dishonest about this, I think. I think he is perfectly ok with gay marriage and his “evolving” views are BS. He’s for it, and he’s waiting for what Jack Sparrow might term the Opportune Moment. Leading from behind, etc etc.


  4. Ben says:

    Yeah, the Republicans are cool with homosexuals, as long as they don’t want any sort of survivor rights, hospital visitation rights, adoption rights, tax deductions, and as long as they’re cool with being constantly referred to as a depraved, unnatural abomination.

  5. An Interested Party says:

    It would be nice if anyone who believes in the “homosexual agenda” to tell us exactly what are the details of that agenda…

  6. Do you mean to say that the GOP isn’t a friendly place for homosexuals or that the GOP isn’t a friendly place for the homosexual agenda, becuase, you know, that’s not quite the same thing.

    Several state GOP parties have planks that homosexuality should be a felony, a view shared by a number of the party’s presidential candidates, including Rick Perry.

    So yes, I do mean to say that the GOP isn’t a friendly place for homosexuals.

  7. muffler says:

    So given that Gay and Lesbians make up less than 3 percent of the population this is a wated discussion. To say that these people are not entitled to to the same civil rights (key work here is civil) as all other citizens when applied to legal status, survivor rights, medical decisions etc. is silly. Now that we have wasted hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of hours on this minor issue let us all just move on the real problems.

  8. Duracomm says:

    An Interested Party said,

    It would be nice if anyone who believes in the “homosexual agenda” to tell us exactly what are the details of that agenda…

    In the case of the obama administration the agenda appears to be gays giving substantial political support to obama.

    In return obama will occasionally produce some gay friendly speechifying while actually doing little if anything to advance policies that gays want.

  9. An Interested Party says:

    That is quite a dodge, but don’t let me stop you from taking a swipe at the president…once again, what is this “agenda” that gay people want…

  10. Duracomm says:

    An interested party said,

    That is quite a dodge, but don’t let me stop you from taking a swipe at the president…once again

    Obama is such a miserable, incompetent failure he provides abundant opportunities for pointing that out.

    The fact remains the republicans in new york have done more for gay marriage equality than obama.

    Yet another example of what a miserable failure obama has been.