President Obama held a Town Hall meeting in London on Friday, which about 500 young leaders attended, and the focus was on social issues.
Obama took questions from the crowd, and one person asked him which social issues have had the most impact on him throughout his presidency, causing him to change his mind about policy.
The president, according to Towleroad, replied that marriage equality stood out. He added that he was influenced by his daughters, Malia and Sasha, as well as friends who are gay.
Obama commented on the rapid rate that laws changed as soon as the marriage equality movement got rolling, indicating that the nation was finally ready to accept this phase of social evolution.
“In the United States what has been remarkable is the rapidity with which the marriage equality movement changed the political landscape and hearts and minds and resulted in actual changes in law. It’s probably been the fastest set of changes that, in terms of the social movement, that I’ve seen.”
Obama didn’t think that marriage was an important factor in a same-sex relationship, as long as they had the same civil rights as other couples. Huffington Post pointed out that Malia and Sasha set him straight on this idea.
“I have to confess my children generally had an impact on me. People I loved who were in monogamous same-sex relationships explained to me what I should have understood earlier, which is it was not simply about legal rights but about a sense of stigma, that if you’re calling it something different it means that somehow it means less in the eyes of society.”
— POPSUGAR (@POPSUGAR) April 16, 2016
Obama added that on LGBT rights, he didn’t need a lot of pressure.
“I came in working on ending a policy called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell that was preventing LGBT citizens from serving in our military openly. We did that very systematically. Policies in terms of those who had HIV AIDS being able to emigrate to our country, hospital visitations, there were a whole host of things that we were already doing.”
But, he added, when it came to gays in marriage, he was in favor of civil unions, thinking they may be even more progressive than marriage in terms of faith.
“My notion was initially that labeling those partnerships as marriage wasn’t necessary as long as people were getting the same rights and it would disentangle them from some of the religious connotations that marriage had in the minds of a lot of Americans.”
President Obama added that the LGBT community presented the argument for gay marriage in a conservative light.
“I believe that the manner in which the LGBT community described marriage equality as not some radical thing but actually reached out to people who said they care about family values and said ‘if you care about everything that families provide – stability and commitment and partnership – then this is actually a pretty conservative position to take, that you should be in favor of this.’ “
Sasha Obama made a statement all her own, without even saying anything, on the monumental day in June, 2013, when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same sex marriage.
That day, Sasha was featured in Hollywood Life sporting a rainbow tote. She was photographed boarding Air Force One, carrying the bag to Africa.
Rainbow colors were a universal symbol of gay rights, and the message wasn’t subtle.
President Obama, at that time, explained why he had changed his position on same sex marriage.
“There have been times where Michelle and I have been sitting around the dinner table and we’re talking about their friends and their parents, and Malia and Sasha, it wouldn’t dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated differently. It doesn’t make sense to them and frankly, that’s the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective.”
Citing this as an example, President Obama told the group of young British leaders, “Ignore people who say you can’t change the world.”
[Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP]