President Obama is denying a former top political adviser's contention that he deceived voters about his position on gay marriage in an interview published Wednesday.
The president said David Axelrod, his former senior adviser, was “mixing up my personal feelings with my position on the issue” when he said Obama publicly backed civil unions rather than gay marriage because it was more politically palatable.
“I always felt that same-sex couples should be able to enjoy the same rights, legally, as anybody else and so it was frustrating to me not to, I think, be able to square that with what were a whole bunch of religious sensitivities out there,” Obama said in an interview with BuzzFeed.
The president said he sincerely felt that civil unions were “a sufficient way of squaring the circle,” but learned over time that gay couples felt they were stigmatized by being denied full access to marriage.
“I think the notion that somehow I was always in favor of marriage per se isn’t quite accurate,” Obama said.
On Tuesday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said he would not "disagree or quibble" with Axelrod’s recollection.
In the book, Axelrod says Obama listened to campaign advisers who told him that it would be politically advantageous to support civil unions rather than full marriage.
"For as long as we had been working together, Obama had felt a tug between his personal views and the politics of gay marriage," Axelrod wrote.
"Opposition to gay marriage was particularly strong in the black church, and as he ran for higher office, he grudgingly accepted the counsel of more pragmatic folks like me, and modified his position to support civil unions rather than marriage, which he would term a 'sacred union.' "
Axelrod added that the president "never felt comfortable" with hiding his true position on the issue.
"He routinely stumbled over the question when it came up in debates or interviews. 'I'm just not very good at bulls---ting,' he said with a sigh after one such awkward exchange," Axelrod wrote.
In the interview with BuzzFeed, Obama argued that LGBT activists were likely happier with his administration — despite its muddled stance on marriage rights — because some of their goals were easier to achieve.
Obama chalked up the dramatic shift on marriage to “the willingness of people to recognize the regard they had for the LGBT communities or people in their families.”
“But part of it is also, frankly, that an issue like non-discrimination for the LGBT community is a little bit easier than the issues of inner-city poverty, right? You not discriminating against a gay person may require you to undergo some change of mind, but it doesn’t require you potentially calling on the government to provide more support for impoverished children so they’ve got more day care that’s high quality,” he said.