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Prez and the Evolution: President Obama Comes Out For Gay Marriage To Robin Roberts

On the heels of Vice President Joe Biden‘s alleged rogue-going on gay marriage, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan‘s actual expression of support for marriage equality, President Obama has completed his long-awaited “evolution” on gay marriage by expressing support for marriage equality in an interview with ABC News’ Robin Roberts. Although the apparent result of intense media pressure, marriage equality advocates likely don’t care how he got here (railway, Trailways, Caravan?), just that he got here.

In an exclusive interview with ABC News, the President said “I have always been adamant that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly and equally,” listing a series of his administration’s accomplishments.

He said he “hesitated” on gay marriage because he felt that civil unions would be sufficient, and because the word “marriage” invokes powerful traditions and beliefs for a lot of people, but concluded that “for me personally, it is important to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.”

This is the culmination of a years-long “evolution” on the subject of gay marriage rights that began with an expression of support for full marriage rights on a 1996 candidate questionnaire, fell back to the more politically palatable “civil unions” in the 2000’s, and ratcheted back up with a series of declarations and actions opposing efforts to ban same-sex, but falling short of a full-throated declaration of support for marriage equality.

Unfortunately, the timing of this announcement makes it appear as though the President was dragged over the finish line by Vice President Joe Biden, or more specifically, the media who swarmed around his declaration of “comfort” with marriage equality.

My read has always been that this cake was baked the day President Obama told Jake Tapper his views were “evolving,” and probably before that. The President’s arc on gay marriage, in my view, has always been a series of noble lies. 1996 Obama knew that gay people were full human beings, entitled to the same right to marry as others, and so did the Obamas to follow.

But no one would disagree that a committed advocate for gay marriage can do more good as president than as overqualified law professor, and if he hadn’t adapted his position in favor of civil unions (which weren’t really on the table in 1996), we would all be watching Professor Barry rail against President McCain as an MSNBC panelist. Obama told the noble lie that he believed marriage was between a man and a woman so that he could move closer to a time when it wouldn’t matter what he, or anyone else, believed about someone else’s marriage.

That’s not to say President Obama never felt a conflict between his conviction that gay people deserve equal rights and his religious convictions, but that conflict appears to have been resolved long ago with the obvious conclusion that personal views shouldn’t trump someone else’s civil rights.

Having already been elected president, and with a raft of impressive achievements for LGBT rights under his belt, President Obama had a difficult choice to make about expressing support for marriage equality. That final symbolic leap could mean everything to the millions of LGBT people who suffer second-class treatment every day, and who really couldn’t wait another day. Or, he could make the jump at a time designed for maximum political impact, maximum political gain, and increase his chances of helping those people more in the future. I believe he chose the latter when he made his “evolving” comments, and it looks like the plan was to make the announcement at the Democratic National Committee.

Instead, the firestorm surrounding Joe Biden and Arne Duncan has resulted in the worst of both worlds: an evolution that took to long, and now appears to have been completed only under tremendous pressure. It’s still a good day for the President, and for marriage equality, but not the win it could have been. The President, a famous conservative poker player, held his aces too long in this case.

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