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The Times
  • Editorial: 'Evolving' views on same-sex marriage

  • Many Americans can relate to President Barack Obama’s oft-cited  “evolution” on the topic of same-sex marriage. Those over a certain age can remember when the idea of gay marriage seemed so strange as to be nearly incomprehensible.

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  • Many Americans can relate to President Barack Obama’s oft-cited  “evolution” on the topic of same-sex marriage. Those over a certain age can remember when the idea of gay marriage seemed so strange as to be nearly incomprehensible.
    But our views have evolved. As courts ruled, legislators debated and voters weighed in, attitudes toward marriage equality moved from “never thought of that before” to “let them have everything but the word ‘marriage’” to “why not?”
    While the noisiest talk about same-sex marriage has been in the politcal world, the real attitude shifts have come in quiet conversations between friends and family. When the couple getting married is among our friends or relatives, polls and legal arguments give way to love and respect for the commitments made by people we care about.
    Evolution in individual attitudes is good; a sign we are still growing in our understanding. In politicians, it’s more problematic. One politician’s evolution is another’s flip-flop. On these grounds, Obama can be criticized. He endorsed same-sex marriage as a candidate for state senate in 1996, then switched to backing civil unions when he ran for higher office.
    But Obama has consistently said his position on marriage rights was “evolving,” so there’s no surprise where he ended up. The timing of the decision is subject to debate. He might have waited until after the election to change positions, but a fight was brewing over including marriage rights in the Democratic Party platform.
    And while Obama has done more to advance gay rights than any president before him –– repealing the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and refusing to defend the Defense Of Marriage Act –– there were many in his liberal base demanding he do more.
    On same-sex marriage, the partisan divides don’t always hold sway. Former vice-president Dick Cheney endorsed marriage equality years ago. Polls show the divide is more generational than ideological, with young people strongly in favor.
    There are some people who don’t believe in evolution, particularly in the social conservative wing of the Republican Party. The GOP’s likely presidential nominee is among them.
    “My view is that marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman,” Mitt Romney said in response to Obama’s statement. “That’s the position I’ve had for some time, and I don’t intend to make any adjustments at this point ... Or ever, by the way.”
    How this will play out politically is anyone’s guess. Consider North Carolina, a swing state Obama won in 2008, where the Democrats will hold their convention. By a wide margin, voters there approved a ban on same-sex marriage just this week.
    On this issue, as on many others, the differences between the candidates couldn’t be more stark. We’ll find out in November how much of America has “evolved.”

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