President Obama didn’t “evolve” into a supporter of marriage equality when he made his historic endorsement of equal marriage rights in 2012 — he’d been a supporter for years, says longtime adviser David Axelrod in a new book.
Obama supported marriage equality when he first ran for president in 2008, Axelrod writes in Believer: My Forty Years in Politics, according to a report in Time, one of several media outlets that obtained a copy of the book. But Axelrod counseled him to cast himself as a supporter of civil unions only, so as not to alienate religious voters.
“Opposition to gay marriage was particularly strong in the black church, and as he ran for higher office, he grudgingly accepted the counsel of more pragmatic folks like me, and modified his position to support civil unions rather than marriage, which he would term a ‘sacred union,’” Axelrod writes. Obama, he adds, was uncomfortable doing so, telling the adviser at one point, “I’m just not very good at bullshitting.”
Obama had actually endorsed marriage equality as far back as 1996, when he ran for an Illinois State Senate seat from Chicago, his first political race. Responding to a questionnaire from Outlines, a Chicago LGBT newspaper, he wrote, “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.” He made a similar statement in a questionnaire for Impact, a now-defunct Illinois LGBT political action committee.
Outlines published a report using the information, and no one from the Obama campaign disputed it at the time. In later years, the president’s aides have said the questionnaire was filled out by a staff member, although Obama signed it. He went on to win the election, launching his political career.
“I had no doubt that this was his heartfelt belief,” Axelrod writes of the questionnaire, according to CNN. “He also knew his view was way out in front of the public’s.”
Axelrod also writes that Obama was ready to make a public endorsement of marriage equality months before he did so. “The president was champing at the bit to announce his support for the right of gay and lesbian couples to wed — and having watched him struggle with this issue for years, I was ready, too,” Axelrod writes. The president finally made his announcement May 9, 2012, in an interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts, just a few days after Vice President Joe Biden made a similar statement on NBC’s Meet the Press.
Asked about the book, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said he hadn’t read it, but Axelrod’s account “is not one that I would disagree with or quibble with,” USA Today reports. Earnest added, “We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the president’s evolution on this issue. It’s consistent with the evolution of people all over the country. I think the president’s record on this speaks better than I possibly could.”
Axelrod’s book is out today.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Advocate writer and copy chief Trudy Ring was the journalist who reported on Obama’s questionnaire responses for Outlines in 1996.