President Obama’s views on marriage do not merely affect what he calls two people of the same sex who chose to remain in a committed relationship. His views show a marked change in legal and constitutional theory that has tremendous implications.
Prior to becoming president, Barack Obama repeatedly asserted that marriage was not a “civil right.” This goes back to his debate with Alan Keyes in 2004, in which he clearly and repeatedly asserted that marriage was not a civil right, but that property matters and hospital visitation were. After becoming president, Obama compared the struggle for marriage to that of the civil rights struggles of African-Americans. Since Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage, the White House website now clearly classifies marriage under the civil rights tab. Thus, marriage was not a civil rights issue before Obama was president, and now it is.
In multiple interviews and debates, Senator Obama asserted that the issue of marriage was one to be decided by the states. He noted that the federal government simply did not have a constitutional role in marriage. However, not long after assuming office, the president endorsed the Respect for Marriage Act. While the White House website asserts that this legislation is intended to prevent the federal government from denying rights to same-sex couples, simply reading the summary of the bill shows that this is not the case. The legislation clearly states that it would repeal the parts of DOMA that allow a state to decide for itself how to define marriage, and force a marriage carried out in one state to be recognized in all states. Thus, marriage was a states’ rights issue prior to the Obama presidency, and now it is not.
Finally, there is the issue of faith. In 2004, State Senator Obama clearly and articulately denoted his view that his faith dictated the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. In his interview to endorse gay marriage, the president asserted that his faith dictated that we should treat others as we would like to be treated. Without addressing the problems with this assertion and the questions it raises about the president’s knowledge of his faith, consider this: as little as three years ago, the president’s faith told him that marriage was between one man and one woman, and now it tells him the opposite.