Barack Obama’s views on marriage did not ‘evolve’

Barack Obama at the White House (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

I heard this morning on Radio 4 that President Barack Obama has come out in favour of same-sex marriage. When he let it be known recently that his views on the subject were “evolving” he was not being entirely honest. To “evolve” one’s views suggests a slow and gradual change that might require much thought and heart-searching. But Obama hasn’t “evolved” in this sense at all. What he should have said was that he wanted to assess the public mood and then wait for the right political moment to publicly announce what he had actually thought for many years. In 1996 when he was a candidate for the State Senate in Illinois, he wrote on a candidate’s questionnaire that “I favour legalizing same-sex marriages.” So much for “evolution”.

It is interesting that Obama, who calls himself a Christian and who has apparently talked through the “evolution” of his thought with his family, is in favour of same-sex marriage, and Mitt Romney, the Republican contender in the presidential election, who is a Mormon (which some would consider not a Christian religion at all) has come out declaring that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

Many commentators regard the “right” to same-sex marriage in the same way as the battle for civil rights in the US in the 1960s. According to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2011, “Gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.” Blogger Sheila Liaugminas has this to say on her blog today: “None of us wants to be on the wrong side of any human rights issue. Which is why it’s so strategic to make [same-sex marriage] a human rights issue. No wonder the poll numbers are changing, trending towards acceptance or approval of ‘same-sex marriage’. By word control the merchants of ideas and politics are attempting thought control, and it works by casting a whole segment of the population as ‘opponents’ of a ‘right’. When in fact what we’re talking about is the redefinition of marriage” .

She adds the further comment, that “Almost nobody is talking about the rights of children in this battle” and draws attention to what William B May, founder and chairman of a San Francisco-based group that promotes Catholic social teaching, has to say. He points out that “By redefining marriage as merely the public recognition of a relationship between adults, we essentially ban the promotion of marriage as the only institution that unites a man and a woman with each other and any children born from their union. It creates a conflict with the human rights of the child, to know and be cared for by their mother and father in the union of marriage.”

Liaugminas also mentions a political consideration for Obama, in his bid for re-election: what will happen to the African-American vote this time around? In California in 2008 African-Americans voted for Obama but against same-sex marriage. Will they now support the “evolution” of Obama’s Christian beliefs or remain loyal to their own traditional Christian understanding of marriage?

Over here Iain Duncan-Smith, the (Catholic) Work and Pensions Secretary, has been undergoing his own “evolution” with regard to the redefinition of marriage. When he was the Conservative Party leader he made it party policy to oppose same-sex couples being given equal rights to adopt children. Now James Park in Pink News reports that Duncan Smith “has confirmed that he will be supporting Prime Minister David Cameron’s pledge to introduce equal civil marriage for gay and lesbian couples. In what appears to be an apparently remarkable evolution of his own personal approach to LGBT rights, he pointed out that in a country where so many heterosexual couples are breaking up, marriage equality is a positive method of creating a more stable society.”

I don’t know if Duncan Smith has had pressure put upon him to toe the Coalition line here and is afraid of losing his high-profile job, or whether he now genuinely believes that you can simply rearrange the definition of marriage by a little “evolutionary” mental process. Either way, I think the less of him for it.