President Obama's position on gay marriage has been at odds with itself, and Thursday's Prop. 8 ruling has raised more questions about inconsistencies in the administration's record on the issue.
The White House reacted positively Thursday to California's ruling to overturn Proposition 8, the voter initiative passed in 2008 that amended the state's constitution to recognize only male-female marriages. A senior administration official said the president has been vocal in his opposition to Prop. 8 "because it is divisive and discriminatory." In 2008, then-candidate Obama said in an interview with ABC's Jake Tapper that he had no issue with the California proposition.
Obama has until now averred that states individually should decide their definition of marriage.
Then-Senator Obama voted against a 2006 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage on grounds that the matter is not a federal one. "I personally believe that marriage is between a man and a woman," he said. "But I also agree with most Americans... that decisions about marriage should be left to the states as they always have been." Candidate Obama echoed this sentiment in a June '08 campaign statement: "[S]tates should make their own decisions when it comes to the issue of marriage."
The administration has attempted to steer clear of the apparent contradictions between Obama's personal objection to gay marriage and his support for same-sex couples, and between the president's opposition to the California ruling and his stated view that states should decide the issue, by carefully distinguishing between same-sex marriage-a term with deep-rooted religious and social connotations-and civil unions, which are more strictly a legal matter.
Obama in a 2007 debate pledged his support for "a strong version [of civil unions], in which the rights that are conferred at the federal level to persons who are part of a same-sex union are compatible" with those in opposite-sex unions and in 2009 went further, issuing an executive order to extend benefits to same-sex domestic partners of federal employees.
But the California proposition the president now opposes deals not with civil unions but with marriage.
Fred Sainz, communications director with gay-rights group Human Rights Campaign, believes the president's mixed position should not distract from Obama's overall support of same-sex couples. "There's absolutely no doubt that all LGBT people wish that he stood for marriage with us, especially today, but the fact that he doesn't doesn't mean that there should be any light in between us," Sainz told Fox's James Rosen today. "I think at the end of the day, the president is committed to our fundamental equality."