Obama's 'evolution'

May 11, 2012 Steve Peck, Publisher

His announcement favoring same-sex marriage is more pragmatic than radical

The national news media talkers and writers are full of discussion over the past couple of days about President Barack Obama's "evolution" on the issue of whether same-sex couples ought to be allowed to marry.

It's not really much of a blockbuster, though.

By now everyone who cares about this issue knows that the president announced publicly a couple of days ago that his official policy now is that same-sex marriage should be permissible everywhere in this country.

The general opinion is that Obama was pushed to make this announcement due to the loose lips of Vice President Joseph Biden, who had said on a Sunday interview show that he felt same-sex marriage was OK. Supposedly, that forced Obama's hand, and he had no choice but to come out with his new position a few days later.

We're not so sure. It's entirely possible that this entire episode was a manufactured one. The administration hasn't discouraged efforts in the media to portray Biden as something of a loose cannon, and that actually can help Obama in the right situation. Biden says something, the Obama people shake their heads and chuckle about "Joe being Joe," and then sit back to wait and see how it all plays.

In this case, after Biden spouted off (supposedly) on "Meet the Press," the poll numbers showed that it was playing pretty well, and Obama made his follow-up announcement on Wednesday night.

By then it already was pretty obvious that Barack Obama was "gay friendly," to use the term of the day. He had endorsed civil unions and the legal rights that go with them. He had told federal authorities to stop enforcing the federal law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Most famously, he rolled back the infamous "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" military policy, meaning that homosexual troops now can serve openly in the U.S. armed forces.

So, the fact that Obama endorsed same-sex marriage is not a surprise in and of itself. The larger story is not what Obama thinks, but that public opinion in this country has shifted drastically in favor of gay marriage. Twenty years ago, overwhelming numbers opposed it. Today, national polling shows that a majority no longer objects to it, and that only about 20 percent of Americans still oppose it strongly.

We probably need look no deeper than those statistics to understand why President Obama did what he did. Despite the "radical" label some opponents try to stick on him, Obama has been a cautious, pragmatic president not all that prone to boldness or risk-taking. This was a calculated move.

In truth, he didn't come out in favor of gay marriage because of a sudden change of heart or Joe Biden's big mouth. He did it because the poll numbers demonstrated that it is now, finally, safe to do so.

-- Steven R. Peck

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