Save for the unlikely explanation that the president has had a sudden conversion to the Tenth Amendment cause, it is difficult to establish exactly what Obama was endorsing yesterday when asked at a press conference for his opinion on New York’s adoption of gay marriage:
I think what you’re seeing is a profound recognition on the part of the American people that gays and lesbians and transgender persons are our brothers, our sisters, our children, our cousins, our friends, our co-workers, and that they’ve got to be treated like every other American. And I think that principle will win out. I think we’re moving in a direction of greater equality and — and I think that’s a good thing.
When called upon to give his own view on the subject, however, Obama demurred, avoiding the question by remarking that he was “not going to make news on that today.” This is a distinctly odd position to have taken. On the whole, those who oppose gay marriage do not do so because they stand against equal protection under the law, or the principle of equality, or because they wish non-straight people to be treated differently; instead they do so because they consider that ‘gay marriage’ is simply a category mistake. In the eyes of its defenders, marriage exists to recognize a specific societal need and cannot therefore be redefined, however hard a legislature or judge tries to do so.
But if Obama believes that the issue is one of “greater equality,” and that it is a “good thing” that New York took the step, then why would he not endorse it more generally? It is all very well to note that this is an issue for the states, as the president did last week at a fundraiser, but that is a question of process and it certainly does not preclude elected officials from holding their own view. When pressed to clarify the paradox, Obama responded, “I think this has been asked and answered. I’ll keep on giving you the same answer until I give you a different one, all right?” It is hard not to conclude that the timing of the “different answer” will be determined less by “evolving” thought, and more by the polls.