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Obama's Gay Marriage Flip Flop: He Was For It Before He Was Against It

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Ah ha, I knew it! Barack Obama supports same-sex marriage after all. (Or at least he did before he set his sights on national office.)

That's the eye popping news this week from a gay newspaper in Chicago.

The Windy City Times dug through its archives and discovered two candidate surveys conducted in 1996, when Obama was running for the Illinois state senate.

In the first, Obama responded to a question by writing "I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages."

In the second, Obama was asked if he supported a document called The Marriage Resolution, which states "RESOLVED, the state should not interfere with same-gender couples who choose to marry and share fully and equally in the rights, responsibilities and commitment of civil marriage."

Obama wrote his response by hand: "I would support such a resolution."

As we know, Obama went on to run for higher office, and went on to oppose gay marriage. He's not alone.

Most progressive Democrats running for higher office run away from gay marriage. In fact, last year all the leading presidential candidates opposed equal marriage rights, including liberals such as Obama, Clinton, Biden, Dodd, and Edwards. Only Kucinich and Gravel supported it.

This despite polls showing that 40% of all Americans, 50% of Democrats and 69% of self-described liberals favor legalizing same-sex marriage, numbers that have trended upwards year by year.

Lots of gay folks like me can be forgiven for wondering whether candidates like Obama, Biden and Clinton really, truly, deeply oppose gay marriage, or simply claim to oppose it because they think they can't get elected otherwise. I mean, is it just an odd coincidence that the Democratic Party's major progressive candidates simply happen to be more conservative than half the party and almost half the country on an issue of fundamental human rights?

Of course it's impossible to say for certain about everyone. But I have long suspected many progressive candidates for high office are...well, lying. I suspect that lots of them privately support marriage rights, but are not willing to get out front on an issue they think might cost them votes. Especially for a minority whose members are probably going to vote for them anyway.

The Obama revelations powerfully support this suspicion. But here's the rub.

A new study by the group Freedom to Marry came out just days earlier, and it decisively shows what happens to politicians brave enough to openly support and vote for gay marriage. They win re-election. And if they decide to run for higher office, they win that too.

The study looked at all 1,100 legislators from 21 states who either voted in favor of outright legalization of same-sex marriage (in California, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts) or voted against bills to make it illegal (in mostly red states like Texas, Virginia and Tennessee) over the past four years.

Of those who voted to legalize same-sex marriage in the first four states, 100% won reelection, or won election to higher offices like the House of Representatives.

And not one of the 667 legislators who bravely against voted measures to ban same-sex marriage in more conservative states lost reelection because of their vote.

This is not to say that same-sex marriage is far more popular than we thought. In fact, in most of those red states the anti-gay marriage measures ultimately passed. And we all know what happened in liberal California when the issue came up for a popular vote.

But it does suggest that the issue is not one of those culture war hot buttons that decides elections. Voters may disagree with a candidate's open support of gay marriage, but if they like that candidate anyway, it appears they'll vote for him or her anyway. Even in places like Texas.

And that suggests that progressives who, because of so-called political pragmatism, refuse to support gay marriage publicly even if they believe in it privately are capitulating to a threat that doesn't really exist.

Since we're talking about a fundamental human right, that's not just a shame. It's a cowardly travesty.

So memo to all upcoming progressive candidates (and the President Elect): Take a look at the Freedom to Marry study, take a look inside your heart, and take a stand to do the right thing. You know you want to. And now you know that it won't even hurt.