Have we stopped to consider how Obama's "evolution" on marriage has benefitted us in media and public consciousness? By having this process of "evolving" on marriage, the media has kept a spotlight on the marriage debate in a way they likely would not have if he'd just kept his mouth shut or if he'd just come out in support of marriage and been done.
We know that most people don't sit around every day thinking about same-sex marriage or any other LGBT issues. With Obama's position on marriage still up in the air, every time something on the ground changes, you can be sure a question about the President's position on marriage equality will come up in a White House press briefing. This gives the people who are sitting on the fence the space to think, as well as someone they can relate to in the process - the President of the United States, no less. This is not a small thing.
I'm not saying this isn't frustrating and just a little silly, but I am saying that I don't think it hurts our cause much, if at all. The President has declared DOMA unconstitutional and directed his Justice Department to stop defending the law. On a panel at Netroots Nation this past week, Camilla Taylor from Lambda Legal told the gathered audience not to underestimate the importance of this move by the Administration. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) reiterated this point later in the discussion.
Also at Netroots Nation this past week, the issue of marriage equality made national news when White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer was questioned about a survey Obama filled out in 1996 in which he expressed support for same-sex marriage. Pfeiffer gave a rather non-sensical answer claiming that someone else filled out the survey and/or that Obama wasn't clear on the distinction between same-sex marriage and civil unions.
Again, this keeps the story alive and front and center. The bumbling of Pfeiffer opened the opportunity for our LGBT media White House correspondents Chris Geidner and Chris Johnson to bring up the topic at a White House press briefing and continuing to make it a national story. If Obama was already on record with his position on marriage, Pfeiffer would never have been asked about the survey and we wouldn't have had multiple news cycles where same-sex marriage was the topic of discussion.
If Obama had come out in favor of marriage equality during the 2008 campaign, it would've been used as a wedge issue to bash him repeatedly about the head. So, in addition to "death panels" and questions about his heritage, Sarah Palin would have been able to drag LGBT people into the debate to show how this radical Muslim foreign-born unknown man wants to kill your grandma and redefine marriage. Would that have helped us more?
At what point after his election would it have been good to switch his position? After stating he supported civil unions repeatedly, a lot of people would feel duped if he got elected and then immediately reversed himself on marriage equality. Obama has little choice but to go through an "evolution" process in order to come out for marriage equality lest he be accused of a bait-and-switch.
And let's look at polling. Since Obama has taken office, polling on support for same-sex marriage hasn't gone down, it's gone up - dramatically. For the first time in history, we are seeing majority support for same-sex marriage nationwide on a consistent basis. And since Obama first said he was "evolving" on marriage in December of 2010, we've shifted from a majority opposed to same-sex marriage to a majority supportive of marriage equality. Where is the harm?
There is no indication this is part of some grand Machiavellian plan, but that doesn't mean that perhaps in their bumbling, the Administration may have stumbled onto something that's doing us more good than we are giving credit. There has certainly been mis-management of the media and the LGBT community around the issue, to some extent, but it's not as if this whole process is seriously hurting our cause.
In fact, it may be helping.
Full disclosure: I work for National Stonewall Democrats. The opinions expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent those of my employer. (img src: public domain)