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Barack Obama 1996 Questionnaire: "I favor legalizing same sex marriages"


Barack Obama says he is against same sex marriage but in 1996 he is quoted in a questionnaire saying, “I favor legalizing same sex marriages”

The questionnaire has now been published by the gay newspaper The Windy City Times.Click here to see the questionnaire and here to read the article. An excerpt from the Windy City Times article is below:

During the final weeks of the presidential campaign last fall, several media outlets contacted Windy City Times because of an old Internet story from the 1996 Illinois State Senate race. In that campaign, Outlines newspaper, which merged with Windy City Times in 2000, reported that 13th District candidate Barack Obama supported gay marriage. Reporters wanted to know what exactly Obama had said.

Outlines newspaper, as with the new Windy City Times, surveyed candidates for all levels of elected office, and also reported on the results from pro-gay and progressive groups. We summarized the results in that 1996 article by Trudy Ring, but did not list exact answers to questions. In that article Outlines did note that Obama was a supporter of same-sex marriage; that article was never challenged or corrected by Obama. Now, in the process of sorting through my 25 years of archives of Chicago gay reporting to eventually post materials on www.ChicagoGayHistory.org , I have found the original surveys on which Ring's reporting was based. Sometimes, it pays to keep those boxes.

IMPACT, which was Chicago's main GLBT political action committee for several years, surveyed Obama and other candidates, as did Outlines. What we are including with this special Presidential Inaugural issue of Windy City Times are copies of the answers to the IMPACT and Outlines questions. For IMPACT, the Obama campaign simply responded on the form. For Outlines, the candidate typed in his answers and signed his letter.

More recently, as Obama has run for higher office, from senator to president, he has further shaped his views on marriage, and now he does not back same-sex marriage. In a January 2004 interview I conducted with Obama at the Windy City Times' office, Obama clearly stated that lack of support for full marriage equality was a matter of strategy rather than principle, but in even more recent comments, it appears he is backing off even further, saying it is more of a religious issue, and also a “state” issue, so he favors civil unions. Both are compromises most gays do not support. First, the U.S. has a separation of church and state, and laws are in place locally and nationally that give benefits based on the very word, “marriage.” Therefore, marriage as it is now defined is a government ( both state and federal ) institution that comes with specific financial and social benefits ( taxes, benefits, inheritance, immigration, custody, etc. ) . So, until government eliminates the word “marriage” from state and federal laws, it is a government issue, and that includes the federal government. Obama's answer to the 1996 Outlines question was very clear: “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.” There was no use of “civil unions,” no compromise whatsoever.

The Windy City Times has also published an interview Obama did with them from February of 2004. Obama was running for the U.S. Senate at the time. Read the interview here and see an excerpt below where he explains his views on same sex marriage.

WCT: Do you have a position on marriage vs. civil unions?

Obama: I am a fierce supporter of domestic-partnership and civil-union laws. I am not a supporter of gay marriage as it has been thrown about, primarily just as a strategic issue. I think that marriage, in the minds of a lot of voters, has a religious connotation. I know that’s true in the African-American community, for example. And if you asked people, ‘should gay and lesbian people have the same rights to transfer property, and visit hospitals, and et cetera,’ they would say, ‘absolutely.’ And then if you talk about, ‘should they get married?’, then suddenly ...

WCT: There are more than 1,000 federal benefits that come with marriage. Looking back in the 1960s and inter-racial marriage, the polls showed people against that as well.

Obama: Since I’m a product of an interracial marriage, I’m very keenly aware of ...

WCT: But you think, strategically, gay marriage isn’t going to happen so you won’t support it at this time?

Obama: What I’m saying is that strategically, I think we can get civil unions passed. I think we can get SB 101 passed. I think that to the extent that we can get the rights, I’m less concerned about the name. And I think that is my No. 1 priority, is an environment in which the Republicans are going to use a particular language that has all sorts of connotations in the broader culture as a wedge issue, to prevent us moving forward, in securing those rights, then I don’t want to play their game.

So the way the timeline sets up here is that Obama favored legalizing same sex marriage in 1996 but by 2004 he was against it. Why the switch?

The Brody File has asked Team Obama for a comment on this. So far we have not received one. When we do we will post it.

Obama is going to take heat on this from the left and right. The “left” will say how come he still doesn’t support legalizing same sex marriage? Why has he backtracked on this and they’ll raise the idea that he just caved for political reasons? The “right” will now be able to say that deep down Obama really does want to legalize same sex marriage and it plays into their idea that Obama is a scary liberal.

We’ll wait to hear from the Obama campaign on this but my guess is they’ll be nuance involved. Obama is a constitutional law professor at heart and he sees many different sides of an issue. No matter whether you’re for or against Obama on this issue, one thing is perfectly clear. Obama has been consistent throughout the years in fighting for the rights of the gay and lesbian community. Nobody can deny that.

Going forward he is going to need to show to the GLBT community that he is serious about advancing their issues while at the same time not ticking off center-right people of faith who he is going to need to call on and mobilize on other issues like healthcare, energy, etc. He didn't get off to a good start with the GLBT community on the Rick Warren pick and this 1996 questionairre may make some wonder what's going on too.

It is not easy. Click here to see how hard it will be.

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Print     Email to a Friend    posted on Thursday, January 15, 2009 5:00 AM



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