President Obama’s Evolving Views

The following post was written by Jason Bilbrey, a volunteer with us at The Marin Foundation.

Last week, President Obama made history by vocalizing his support for marriage for gay and lesbian individuals, the first sitting president to do so. The flood of media coverage surrounding his interview with Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts has been largely focused on the social and political implications of his declaration. I first caught on to this story through brief sound-bites and political talking heads, all commenting on what they saw as a calculated move in the months leading up to the elections. And to be sure, I agree that it was politically motivated, but when I finally found a full transcript of the original interview, I was surprised. The president did not come across as strategic or assertive or even eloquent. It was not a sound-bite friendly interview.

But the media outlets are doing their best with it. Pundits on both sides of the issue are portraying the President as a champion for Gay Rights. (Newsweek has him on their cover with a rainbow-colored halo and the title, “The First Gay President”). But that’s not how he came across.

This was not a policy statement. It was a personal conviction. Listening to him speak, his declaration, well–it can hardly be called a declaration at all. So what was it?

Regardless of our politics, or where you or I fall on this issue, I think it’s healthy to at least acknowledge what was special about this interview. With the most polarizing issue at the most polarized time in our nation’s politics, isn’t it important to humanize our leaders? I don’t agree with everything the President says, but I saw his humanity last week. Here’s what I heard and appreciated in this interview:

He was meek. It’s rare for anyone, let alone a politician, to admit they have changed their minds on an important issue. But that’s essentially what he said. He experienced an “evolution on this issue.” For most of his presidency, he has supported civil unions, but withheld support for gay marriage because “the word marriage was something that evokes very powerful traditions [and] religious beliefs.” That all changed last week when he admitted that civil unions were insufficient, contributing to “the pain [gays and lesbians] feel that somehow they are still considered less than full citizens.”

The Commander-in-Chief painted himself almost as a student in making this decision, quietly listening to and learning from his friends and staff members–even his children, whom he admitted were much more comfortable with the idea of gay marriage than he was. He admitted his hesitancy and discomfort, but kept an open mind. And it was changed.

He was personal. It’s been my experience that most people who view homosexuality as a threat do not actually associate with any open gay and lesbian individuals. When you do–and Obama clearly has–the fear and presuppositions gradually fade, and what you’re left with is a real person. Relatable, even.

The President came to his conviction as most people do: not by reasoning through the arguments, but by interacting with actual gays and lesbians. His decision was relationally informed. He was sympathetic to his own staff members “who are incredibly committed, in monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together.”

In the end, Obama cited his Christian faith in helping to make the decision. He considered Jesus’ Golden Rule, “treat others the way you’d want to be treated,” as he summarizes, to be one of the guiding precepts of his family’s faith. I got the impression that he wrestled with reconciling what seem to be contradictory teachings in the Bible about accepting gays and lesbians. And that’s not uncommon. But what is uncommon is for a leader to be vulnerable and sincere about the formation of his personal faith convictions.

He was civil. This is probably what I appreciated most about Obama’s interview last week, and, really, about his presidency thus far. He was very civil. What little charged rhetoric he used in the interview was reserved for presidential rival Mitt Romney. But when speaking of friends and pastors who remain against gay marriage, he shows a rare generosity. “I understand their perspective,” he said, “in part, because– their impulse is the right one. Which is they want to– they want to preserve and strengthen families.”

For Obama, the heart of the debate over gay marriage is not whether to force conservative or liberal social values on society, but how best to protect and promote families. By framing the conversation this way, he provides common ground on which both parties can agree. We can all begin this discussion knowing that the other party has the “right impulse” to “preserve and strengthen families.”

Perhaps he can assure us that most traditional marriage proponents “are not coming at it from a mean-spirited perspective” because he was once one of them. He speaks with the kind of respect and understanding that can only come from having once stood with those who oppose you.

So what do we make of this man and this decision? Can we be proud that he handled this issue with such sincerity regardless of what conclusions we ourselves have made? I hope so. Regardless of the political ramifications of his new position, I hope that Obama’s interview helps to elevate the conversation. I hope people on both sides of the issue approach it with a bit more meekness, personal reflection and civility toward those who disagree. This is the example he set and I think we would be wise to follow it.

Much love.

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  • LV Anonymous

    Sorry, but no matter what he says on this matter, I think he is political, not caring. I actually think he feel uncomfortale around gay people.
    I also don’t think he is a Christian or any other religion for that matter. Politicians get involved in churches because it improves their image. It is even more true in Afro-American communities.
    Locally, he spoke for gay marriage years ago, but went with the hetero model when running for president. Now, he reverted back to this statement.

    I respect the privacy of his family, but I wish I could find out for sure if his daughters actually had conversations about this topic with him.

    He is an excellent speaker, but still I don’t believe much of what he says.
    The best thing I can do is pray. Arguing too much doesn’t help!

    In conclusion, I have my doubts. There is so much white guilt in this country, so people want to believe him. Why didn’t Colin Powell run for president like it was hoped??

    • Colin Powell did not run because his opponents were able to manufacture up some dirt from his past. Whether true or not, his wife would not allow any damaging reports to destroy him and his family. She convinced her husband running for the presidency was not worth it.

    • FYI: Colin Powell interview to be released on CNN later today indicating he has “no problem” with marriage equality. (

  • PG Anonymous

    If Obama is in fact a Christian (which is very questionable), he is headed down the slippery slope away from the Truth in the Bible and God’s plan for marriage. Where will this end? Polygamy? Marriage of men to children?
    Surely it should be acceptable if these “citizens” could be considered more “full citizens” if they got the will of their desire!
    I believe Obama is hoping to get political gain from his convenient new “Christian” personal revelation about the Golden Rule. Only time will tell if his plan works on him on election day.

    • PG Anonymous: The president was a member of my Christian denomination for many years. I have no doubt about his faith. I find it very sad when people seek to minimize the professed faith of others.

  • I don’t believe that President Obama has taken the GLBT communites for granted as much as people assert. He officially came out in favor of marriage equality (again) last week. He hasn’t been perfect, but… He, of course, signed off on DADT repeal. He signed off on domestic partnership benefits for gays and lesbian employees in the executive branch of the federal govt. He signed the hate crimes bill into law which includes sexual orientation. He approved policy that ensures that partners of gay and lesbian patients can not be turned away from hospitals. His lifted an international travel ban for people with HIV/AIDS. He expanded the US Census to include the counting of gay and lesbian partners and spouses. His administration no longer defends DOMA in federal court. The DOD now allows chaplains the ability to officiate at the weddings of gay and lesbian servicemembers where it is legal either on or off base if that’s something they support.