From the NYTimes:
In 1996, as a candidate for the State Senate in Illinois, Mr. Obama responded to a questionnaire from a gay newspaper. “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages,” Mr. Obama wrote, “and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.”
White House officials have said Mr. Obama was really referring to civil unions, which he does support. (On Friday, Mr. Obama’s communications director, Dan Pfieffer, caused a brief kerfuffle by telling a conference of bloggers that Mr. Obama had not filled out the forms himself; the White House later said he was mistaken.)
By the time Mr. Obama ran for the United States Senate in 2004, his position had become more nuanced.
Jackie Kaplan, a Chicago Democrat who was co-chairwoman of a committee of gays and lesbians supporting Mr. Obama, said he raised practical objections and made the case this way: “Why spend a lot of time on an issue that is not going to happen? The Defense of Marriage law is on the books, we’re not going to overturn that, let’s talk about how we can build more equality.”
Tracy Baim, a gay journalist in Chicago who interviewed Mr. Obama in 2004, remembers the candidate asking her to turn off her tape recorder so they could have a candid conversation on same-sex marriage. She said his objections were based on what he saw as realistic considerations: “I know what you want, I know what you can get.”
But when his Senate campaign moved into the general election against Alan Keyes, Mr. Obama told an interviewer for a black-owned radio station that religion was a factor.
Ms. Kaplan said she felt that Mr. Obama was either “pandering to Alan Keyes” or setting himself up to run for higher office; Ms. Baim, who said Mr. Obama had not cited his religious beliefs to her, viewed it as “a political maneuver.”
The black church has historically taken a dim view of same-sex marriage; the church Mr. Obama attended in Chicago, Trinity United Church of Christ, takes no official stance. Yet Trinity’s parent church is progressive; in 2005, its general synod passed a resolution supporting marriage equality for gay couples.
Once in the Senate, Mr. Obama maintained the position that his opposition was based on his religious views. Jimmy Creech, a former Methodist minister who advocates for same-sex marriage, recalls meeting with Mr. Obama’s top Senate aides in 2005. He thought Mr. Obama, the son of an interracial couple whose marriage would have been illegal in some states, would be sympathetic.
But he said the conversation turned frosty when same-sex marriage came up. “We talked about this as an expression of bigotry, using religion to justify discrimination,” Mr. Creech said. “They did not like that; the word ‘bigotry’ was inflammatory to them.”
As a presidential candidate, Mr. Obama’s position hardened. In 2008, he visited the Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., where the pastor Rick Warren asked him to define marriage. “I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman,” Mr. Obama said. “For me, as a Christian, it is also a sacred union.”
Three years later, Mr. Obama has said his views are evolving, in part because he has “very close friends who are married gay and lesbian couples...”
Obama’s Views on Gay Marriage ‘Evolving’
SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
June 18, 2011