President Obama’s change of position on the issue of same-sex marriage wasn’t quite the “evolution” he made it out to be, according to longtime aide David Axelrod. In his new book, Believer: My Forty Years in Politics, Axelrod, who has been with the president since his first run for the White House, confirms that Obama “misled Americans for his own political benefit when he claimed in the 2008 election to oppose same sex marriage for religious reasons.” Axelrod recalls that Obama expressed discomfort with his position, admitting privately that he was “not very good at bullshitting” just after an interview in which he’d reiterated his opposition to same-sex marriage.
Obama’s use of faith to explain his opposition to same-sex marriage dates back to his bid for Illinois’s Senate seat in 2004. The New York Times notes that Obama began to cite religion as the reason for his position on the issue during his race against Republican Alan Keyes, suggesting that it was part of an effort to court black voters who generally opposed the redefinition of marriage. During a debate with Keyes, when pushed to explain his position on the matter, Obama emphasized his faith.
As Axelrod notes, Obama maintained that position during his 2008 presidential run. During a 2007 primary debate focused on LGBT issues, and hosted by the Human Rights Campaign and Logo, the president encouraged gay-rights supporters to disentangle “marriage” from their efforts, and instead focus on civil unions, because the former has “religious connotations.”
After securing the nomination, in a 2008 interview with pastor Rick Warren, Obama said he would oppose a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage because he felt it was an issue for the states to decide, but that his own feelings on the matter hadn’t changed.
“I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman,” he told Warren to applause from the audience. “For me as a Christian, it is also a sacred union — God is in the mix.”
Throughout most of his first term as president, Obama continued to state his opposition to same-sex marriage, although he mentioned that he was “evolving” on the issue beginning in 2010. In 2012, in the midst of a tough reelection fight and six months out from Election Day, the president’s supposed “evolution” was completed, and he finally voiced his support for same-sex marriage. According to Axelrod though, his mind had been made up long before then.