WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is disputing a longtime aide’s view that Obama feigned opposition to gay marriage, compromising his true beliefs out of concern it could hurt him with voters.
Former Obama strategist David Axelrod writes in a new book that Obama modified his public position to say he supported civil unions but not gay marriage. Axelrod says that was because his political advisers told him supporting gay marriages could hurt him politically.
But Obama told BuzzFeed News in an interview posted late Tuesday night that Axelrod is “mixing up my personal feelings with my position on the issue.”
Axelrod wrote that Obama begrudgingly followed his advice that he would face strong opposition from African American religious leaders and others if he let it be known he supported gay marriage.
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“Having prided himself on forthrightness, though, Obama never felt comfortable with his compromise and, no doubt, compromised position,” Axelrod wrote in the memoir “Believer: My Forty Years in Politics,” released Tuesday.
Axelrod’s disclosure affirmed what was widely suspected for years: that Obama’s May 2012 announcement that he supported gay marriage came long after the president had personally come to that conclusion. The year earlier, Obama and the White House had started saying his position was “evolving,” leading many to believe he was holding off on a public embrace of gay marriage for fear it could damage his re-election prospects.
“If Obama’s views were ‘evolving’ publicly, they were fully evolved behind closed doors,” Axelrod wrote.
Obama told BuzzFeed News that “I always felt that same-sex couples should be able to enjoy the same rights, legally, as anybody else and so it was frustrating to me not to, I think, be able to square that with what were a whole bunch of religious sensitivities out there.” He added that he thought civil unions were “a sufficient way of squaring the circle,” but that “the pain and the sense of stigma that was being placed on same-sex couples who are friends of mine” changed his mind.
“I think the notion that somehow I was always in favor of marriage per se isn’t quite accurate,” Obama said, apparently referring to gay marriage.
He indicated his support for gay marriage in a 1996 questionnaire before backtracking years later. The president called that questionnaire “an example of struggling with what was a real issue at the time, which is, how do you make sure that people’s rights are enjoyed and these religious sensitivities were taken into account?”
When he finally said as president that he felt gay marriage should be legal, it was only after Vice President Joe Biden declared his support for it during an interview, upping the pressure on Obama to make his current views clear ahead of the election. Axelrod said Obama’s advisers told him it could cost him a few key states including North Carolina, but that Obama was “champing at the bit to announce his support.”