President Obama is no more hypocritical than the next politician—especially if the next one is Mitt Romney—but he certainly is a hypocrite. So while I’m thrilled to celebrate his support for gay marriage, as little as it means legally, I’m irked by his all-too-eloquent conversion story.
In his interview with ABC News, the president recounted a change of heart on gay marriage. He said his thinking had evolved “over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors.” He talked of having observed members of his own staff “in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together.” He referenced conversations with his wife, who agrees with him. And of course he invoked the troops: “those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don't Ask Don't Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage.”
Do you believe that—through exposure to these people—the president has actually changed his mind on gay marriage? I don’t. He has always supported it.
Everything about his history—his progressive politics, his civil rights activism, his own heritage—strongly indicates that he would favor gay marriage. Oh, and then there is the fact that he said he supported gay marriage, unequivocally. In 1996, as a state senate candidate, Obama wrote and signed a survey declaring: “I favor legalizing same sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.” When he ran for president, Obama denied support for gay marriage while endorsing civil unions, and circulated an obviously bushwah story disavowing the 1996 survey, claiming someone else had filled it out. (No matter that Obama signed it.) Liberal Democrats accepted his cover story—and his obvious hypocrisy—because they knew that supporting gay marriage would have been politically fatal to his 2008 prospects. Nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more.
There is no elegant way to own up to past hypocrisy. But perhaps we shouldn’t spend too much time congratulating the president on his “evolution.” When he decided to pursue higher office, he made the wrong decision on gay marriage for political convenience. Now, he is making the right decision on gay marriage, and also for political convenience. He has known that gay marriage was right for at least 16 years—a lot longer than most Americans, including me. Let’s not praise him too much for finally speaking out about it today.