Obama’s Evolution on Gay Marriage

BY David Chalian  February 24, 2011 at 7:57 AM EDT

Obama signs the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act; Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama celebrates signing the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 in December. Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

The news out of President Obama’s Justice Department that the administration will no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court should come as no big surprise. Mr. Obama has long been publicly committed to legislatively repealing the 1996 law.

Defending a policy near and dear to a portion of the president’s base and to which he is publicly opposed grew to be an untenable situation.

The upcoming court deadlines for filings in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals sparked the timing for this particular action at this particular juncture.

However, it’s impossible not to view this in the broader context of President Obama’s self-described evolution on same-sex marriage and gay rights in general.

In December, the president scored a major legislative victory (with the help of Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Harry Reid, D-Nev.) in signing the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, ending the practice of banning gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.

That was quickly followed by this widely noted answer to a question about same-sex marriage at his year-end news conference in December.

“[M]y feelings about this are constantly evolving. I struggle with this. I have friends, I have people who work for me, who are in powerful, strong, long-lasting gay or lesbian unions. And they are extraordinary people, and this is something that means a lot to them and they care deeply about,” President Obama said.

“At this point, what I’ve said is, is that my baseline is a strong civil union that provides them the protections and the legal rights that married couples have. And I think — and I think that’s the right thing to do. But I recognize that from their perspective it is not enough, and I think is something that we’re going to continue to debate and I personally am going to continue to wrestle with going forward,” he added.

Add Wednesday’s announcement to the mix and you begin to wonder just where the president’s evolution on the issue will conclude by the time November 2012 rolls around and how much the eventual Republican nominee plans to use it as an issue in the campaign.

CONTINUED RESOLVE

With eight days left until funding for the federal government is set to run out, neither side of the debate has shown any sign they’re ready to blink in this game of high-stakes political chicken.

House Republicans, who last Saturday passed a measure to fund the federal government for seven months, but with $61 billion in cuts, have started crafting a short-term stopgap bill that would reduce spending by $4 billion in two weeks. That would give lawmakers until March 18 to reach an agreement on a solution to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year in September.

On Wednesday, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the GOP’s new plan, like the old version, was a “non-starter” in the Senate. “The Republicans’ so-called compromise is nothing more than the same extreme package the House already handed the Senate, just with a different bow. This isn’t a compromise, it’s a hardening of their original position,” Sen. Reid spokesman Jon Summers said in a statement.

Sen. Reid announced earlier this week that he would put forward a measure when Congress returns next week to keep the government operating for an additional 30 days, but at current spending levels. Republican leaders immediately balked at that idea, saying any compromise would have to involve cuts.

Both sides are likely to remain entrenched in their positions as public opinion is closely divided on which side is doing a better job of handling budget negotiations. A new Gallup poll released Thursday found that 42 percent of Americans see Republicans in Congress as having an edge in budget dealings, while 39 percent said they favored how President Obama and congressional Democrats were approaching the situation.

If there’s one data nugget from the survey that might bring lawmakers to the negotiating table sooner rather than later, it’s this: By nearly a two-to-one margin (60 percent to 32 percent) Americans want lawmakers to agree to a compromise rather than holding out for a plan they mostly agree with, if that means bringing federal federal government operations to a halt.

MAVERICK NO MORE

The political evolution of Sen. John McCain from insurgent presidential candidate with great independent appeal in 2000 to Bush administration critic to Bush ally and campaign surrogate in 2004 to establishment favorite trying to get right with the base in 2008 to President Obama’s critic-in-chief has landed the Republican from Arizona in new territory.

According to National Journal’s annual rankings, Sen. McCain is tied for the most conservative member of the Senate. The ranking is based on senators’ voting records in 2010.

National Journal’s Reid Wilson has more:

“According to a comprehensive examination of 96 Senate votes taken in 2010, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., along with seven of his colleagues, voted most often on the conservative side. His 89.7 composite conservative score ties him with stalwarts like Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and gives him a more conservative score than Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.

“In the early part of this decade, McCain was far closer to the ideological middle of the chamber. From 2002 to 2006, he bounced between the 44th- and 49th-most conservative member, giving him the maverick title. His 89.7 composite conservative score is the farthest to the right of any year he has served in the Senate.”

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