David Axelrod, center, then a senior adviser to President Obama, walks across the runway in Las Vegas, Nov. 1, 2012.
Photo by Doug Mills/New York Times/Redux

David Axelrod reveals the truth about Obama and gay marriage

Updated

In his new memoir “Believer: My Forty Years in Politics,”  longtime Obama adviser David Axelrod admits that the president supported gay marriage privately back in 2008 but concealed his position for political expediency.

This is a fact that many progressives have long suspected, but no one in Obama’s inner circle has ever admitted it publicly – until now. Axelrod, who served as Obama’s chief campaign adviser during the 2008 race and later as a senior adviser at the White House, has provided a rare glimpse into the inner-workings of an infamously secretive campaign machine. 

“I’m just not very good at bullsh-tting,” Obama told Axelrod according to the book, and yet throughout his first victorious presidential campaign the then-Illinois senator stuck by a position of support for civil unions but not full marriage rights. In his book, Axelrod concedes that he personally put pressure on Obama to compromise his own personal beliefs in favor of marriage equality.

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“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 in “Believer.”

“Having prided himself on forthrightness, though, Obama never felt comfortable with his compromise and, no doubt, compromised position,” Axelrod adds. “He routinely stumbled over the question when it came up in debates or interviews.”

During the 2008 campaign, many conservatives highlighted Obama’s answer to a 1996 questionnaire while he was in the Illinois state senate as a more authentic window into his views on gay marriage. “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages,” Obama wrote. Yet as a candidate for president, Obama routinely cited his Christian faith as the main impetus for his opposition to marriage equality.

Two years later, as president, Obama started telling the press he was “evolving” on the issue and his support for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and championing of a host of other pro-LGBT proposals gave activists heart that he would eventually fully embrace gay marriage. But Vice President Joe Biden jumped the gun, saying he was “absolutely comfortable” with marriage equality during a May 2012 appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” With his hand presumably forced, Obama followed suit and made history as the first U.S. president to support marriage equality while in office. At the time, Obama referenced the influence of his wife Michelle and his daughters Malia and Sasha, in helping him come around on the issue. 

“They are much more comfortable with it,” Obama said during an interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts at the time. “You know, Malia and Sasha, they have friends whose parents are same-sex couples. There have been times where Michelle and I have been sitting around the dinner table and we’re talking about their friends and their parents and Malia and Sasha, it wouldn’t dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated differently. It doesn’t make sense to them and, frankly, that’s the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective.”

According to Axelrod, Obama had made his choice to publicly flip flop a full five months before Biden’s interview. “If Obama’s views were ‘evolving’ publicly, they were fully evolved behind closed doors. 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,” writes Axelrod.

“Believer: My Forty Years in Politics” goes on sale February 10.

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Barack Obama, David Axelrod, Gay Rights and Marriage Equality

David Axelrod reveals the truth about Obama and gay marriage

Updated