On gay marriage, Obama will make a change you can believe in—in 2013

Walter Shapiro's Yahoo! News column examines how character collides with policymaking in Washington and in politics. Shapiro, who just finished covering his ninth presidential campaign, also is writing a book about his con-man great uncle who cheated Hitler.

“If there is one thing that we learned in 2008, it’s that nothing is more powerful than millions of voices calling for change.”  —Barack Obama on Saturday at his campaign kickoff rally in Columbus, Ohio

The next day, Joe Biden added his voice (more or less) to the millions calling for change in the laws that ban gay marriage. Then Monday morning, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a Chicagoan like the president, endorsed gay marriage during an MSNBC interview. Before the week is over, it is a safe bet that other prominent members of the Obama administration—when pressed by reporters—will join the chorus. That is how a social movement builds, one public conversion at a time.

In theory, it is possible for an accomplished grammarian—or a nervous Obama campaign operative—to parse Biden’s emotional remarks on “Meet the Press” about “love” and the “marriages of lesbians or gay men” and see nothing new. But such semantic gamesmanship does not explain why Biden felt compelled to confide to NBC viewers that he was so impressed after recently meeting the adopted children of a gay couple in Los Angeles that he told their parents, “I wish every American could see the look of love those kids had in their eyes for you guys.” Even though Biden never explicitly mouthed the four words “I support gay marriage,” the vice president’s position could not have been clearer than if he had presided over gay unions himself.

The president himself is not there yet. In fact, his public views keep evolving at roughly the pace of the Galapagos tortoises that Darwin studied. The only reference to gay rights in Obama’s new stump speech was embedded in this line: “We’re not returning to the days when you could be kicked out of the United States military just because of who you are or who you love.” But despite Obama’s current don’t-ask-don’t-tell equivocation on the subject of gay marriage (he opposes discrimination against gay couples), everyone can guess the evolutionary miracle that will occur as soon as the election is over. In 2013, either as a second-term president or as a private citizen beyond political ambition, Obama almost certainly will reinvent himself as a supporter of gay marriage.

Aside from his meetings with Republican members of Congress, Obama is almost always in rooms where the overwhelming majority of those present support legalizing gay marriage. A 2011 Gallup poll found that more than two-thirds of all Democrats take that position, while a recent Pew Research Center survey put the figure at just under 60 percent. When you factor in the elite educational pedigrees of the White House staff and the cultural liberalism of major Democratic donors in Hollywood and on Wall Street, Obama is completely out of step with his peer groups with his not-so-fast reluctance on gay marriage.

Obama is even lagging behind that trailblazing crusader, Dick Cheney. Much to the dismay of his 2008 liberal supporters, Obama has embraced the hawkish views of Cheney on targeted assassinations, the unchecked war-making powers of the president and the necessity to keep the prison at Guantanamo operating. But when it comes to echoing Cheney’s surprising support for gay marriage—that is a position currently far too extreme for an apostle of hope and change like Obama.

What is striking from the polling on gay marriage is how rapidly attitudes have changed from passionate opposition to puzzled equivocation to growing support. According to the polling from the Pew Research Center, two-thirds of all American voters opposed gay marriage in 2004. Now, just two presidential elections later, extending the institution of marriage to homosexual couples is supported by a margin of 47 percent to 43 percent. These days, in fact, Republicans are about the only political group still outraged by the specter of gay marriage: Forty percent of GOP voters describe themselves as “strongly opposed” compared to just 19 percent of independents and 14 percent of Democrats.

Even if North Carolina, as expected, votes Tuesday to add a ban on gay marriage to the state constitution, it should mostly be regarded as a symbol of rear-guard resistance. The wave of the future can be found in polling that reveals that more than two-thirds of all voters under 30 support gay marriage. Of course, the president’s campaign team appears to believe that coming out for gay marriage in the heat of a re-election campaign would distract from Obama’s inspirational political message: Mitt Romney’s worse.

If Obama dips into the latest volume of Robert Caro’s Lyndon Johnson biography, “The Passage of Power,” he may well pause when he reads LBJ’s reaction to the advisers who urged political caution about embracing civil rights on the verge of a presidential election. Johnson snapped, “Well, what the hell’s the presidency for?”

A close reading of “The Passage of Power” reveals that Johnson always understood the importance of political timing. It would be easy for Obama to conclude that now is simply not the time to speak out clearly about gay marriage. But mealy-mouthed evasions and rhetorical obfuscation come at a cost—dampening the enthusiasm of supporters and frittering away the opportunities provided by the bully pulpit of the presidency. Obama is fooling no one with his endless evolutionary pondering of gay marriage. A brave president—election year or not--might follow the lead of Joe Biden and actually say what he thinks.

  • Head of Egypt's censorship board resigns after dispute over showing bombshell's steamy film
    Head of Egypt's censorship board resigns after dispute over showing bombshell's steamy film

    CAIRO - The head of Egypt's censorship board has resigned after the country's prime minister overruled his decision to allow a film starring a sultry Lebanese singer to be shown. Ahmed Awad, undersecretary to the culture minister and head of the censorship authority, told The Associated Press on Saturday that he had submitted his resignation Thursday morning in response to Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab's decision to stop the film from being shown. The censorship board is meant to be an independent body that gives the final say on whether a movie can be seen by Egyptian audiences. Mahlab said he stopped the film from being shown in response to calls from the National Council for Motherhood and Childhood and "to preserve the morals of our children." Lebanese sex symbol Haifa Wehbe plays the lead character in the film and has a young boy infatuated with her.

  • Woman dies after dad hits her trying to park near Ottawa hospital
    Woman dies after dad hits her trying to park near Ottawa hospital

    A 54-year-old woman from Trenton, Ont., has died after she was struck just outside The Ottawa Hospital's Civic campus as her father was trying to park the vehicle.

  • Kansas students, parents not thrilled about having Michelle Obama at high school graduation

    TOPEKA, Kan. - If expanding the guest list to include Michelle Obama at graduation for high school students in the Kansas capital city means fewer seats for friends and family, some students and their parents would prefer the first lady not attend. A furor over what the Topeka school district considers an honour has erupted after plans were announced for Obama to address a combined graduation ceremony for five area high schools next month an 8,000-seat arena. For others, it was the notion that Obama's speech, tied to the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education outlawing segregation in schools, would overshadow the student's big day. They've taken the glory and shine from the children and put on Mrs. Obama.

  • Air Canada investigating luggage toss caught on video
    Air Canada investigating luggage toss caught on video

    Air Canada says it is investigating after a video that appears to show its baggage handlers dropping items from a tall staircase circulated on the internet.

  • Why doesn't Easter have a fixed date?
    Why doesn't Easter have a fixed date?

    Easter and Christmas are both Christian holidays, but while families always gather on Dec. 25 in the winter the annual spring celebration can change drastically each year on our calendars.

  • Hamilton amazed by chequered flag blunder

    By Abhishek Takle SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton nearly backed off while still a lap away from his third win in a row on Sunday after the chequered flag was waved early in a blunder that led to a post-race revision of the results. Such places matter for small teams like Caterham, who have never scored a point and whose final position at the end of the season will be decided on placings and a possible countback as far as 17th and 18th.

  • Rehtaeh Parsons suspect accused of threatening girl's father
    Rehtaeh Parsons suspect accused of threatening girl's father

    One of two teens charged in the Rehtaeh Parsons child pornography case is now accused of threatening to kill the girl’s father, Glen Canning.

  • As Toronto Mayor Rob Ford kicks off re-election campaign, rival Olivia Chow releases first attack ad
    As Toronto Mayor Rob Ford kicks off re-election campaign, rival Olivia Chow releases first attack ad

    Toronto's municipal election is still six months away and it's already spawned its first attack ad against infamous incumbent Mayor Rob Ford. The campaign for Olivia Chow, the former New Democrat MP who's seen as the front-runner to unseat Ford, … Continue reading →

Follow Yahoo! News