During 1996 state election, Obama backed 'gay marriage'
Posted on Jan 14, 2009 | by Michael Foust
WASHINGTON (BP)--In what likely will only add to the confusion over President-elect Obama's position on the issue, recently recovered documents show that he supported the legalization of "gay marriage" when running for Illinois state senate in 1996.
The documents were posted Jan. 13 on the website of the Windy City Times, a Chicago-based homosexual media outlet. Typed and signed by Obama, the letter summarizes his positions on homosexual issues and says in part, "I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages." Times Executive Editor Tracy Baim wrote on the newspaper's website that she found the letter -- which was sent during the '96 primary to a homosexual newspaper called Outlines -- "while sorting through my 25 years of archives of Chicago gay reporting" as part of a project for the ChicagoGayHistory.org website.
The letter is significant because it contrasts with Obama's own publicly stated position on "gay marriage." It's rare for a politician to favor the legalization of "gay marriage" and then subsequently to oppose it. Generally -- as in the case of former Vice President Al Gore -- liberal politicians oppose "gay marriage," only later to support it.
Of course, conservatives are wishing they had had the letter during the general election, when it could have swayed voters. National Review's Kathryn Jean Lopez wrote on the magazine's website, "Too bad Rick Warren never got to ask about this" -- a reference to Warren's presidential forum. For months, conservative pundits have argued that, privately, Obama's opposition to "gay marriage" may not be that strong, or may be non-existent. National Review's Rich Lowry made such an argument during the summer, noting that while Obama says he opposes "gay marriage," he also opposes every effort to ban it, including California's Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act, a law which gives states the option of not recognizing another state's "gay marriages." Obama called Prop 8 "discriminatory." Obama, Lowry wrote, "might be the first major candidate for president to support same-sex marriage" although he "won't say as much." Lowry said Obama is "operationally pro-gay marriage."
But on the flip side of the ideological spectrum, "gay marriage" supporters are trying to make sense of the news about the '96 letter.
"I have to ask the President-elect what gives?" liberal blogger Charles Lemos wrote on the My Direct Democracy blog. "This is rather disconcerting and to be frank it reeks of selling out for political gain. I doubt that there is an answer that will satisfy me, other than you were right back in 1996 and wrong now, but many of us in the LGBT community are now rather curious as to how you could go backwards on this issue other than the obvious -- that you sold out your principles for political gain as you climbed the ladder of success."
Meanwhile, Obama's Change.gov website has posted a video by incoming Press Secretary Robert Gibbs reiterating the new administration's goal of overturning the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, which prevents homosexuals from serving openly.
"Is the new administration going to get rid of the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy?" Gibbs said, reading an e-mail question, before answering, "... You don't hear a politician give a one-word answer much, but it's yes."
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council and a former U.S. Marine, previously told Baptist Press that the current policy -- which he supports -- makes practical sense.
"Sometimes you'll have 100, 500 or 1,000 soldiers, sailors or Marines together in a barracks or in a ship bay, all using the same showers and bathroom facilities," Perkins said. "When you introduce sexuality into that kind of environment, it begins to break down discipline and unit cohesion."
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. With reporting by Gregory Tomlin.