Windy City Media Group Frontpage News


home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2022-12-07



Putting Obama's questionnaire in context

This article shared 2 times since Wed Jan 14, 2009
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

      More Photos

Shown here are copies of the 1996 primary election questionnaire issued by IMPACT, which was Illinois' Gay and Lesbian Political Action Organization. The form had been due Jan. 12, 1996, and was signed by Barack Obama on Jan. 7, 1996. In this election, he was running for the Democratic nomination for 13th District State Senator. He won the primary and eventually the election that fall.

The questionnaire in context

By Timothy Stewart-Winter

In this issue of the Windy City Times, the world learns for the first time that almost thirteen years ago, during his first campaign for office, Barack Obama answered a questionnaire with the phrase, "I favor legalizing same-sex marriages." The response appeared in a questionnaire that his campaign faxed to the office of Outlines—a local LGBT newspaper that purchased and merged with Windy City Times in 2000—on Feb. 15, 1996. Later that year, in its voter guide for the general election, Outlines summarized Obama's positions: "Supports gay rights, same-sex marriage; increased AIDS funding, abortion rights, affirmative action."

Publisher and Executive Editor Tracy Baim retrieved the form from her archives while working on the Chicago Gay History Project. Her release of the document occurs at a unique time. On Jan. 20, for only the third time since the Stonewall riots, a new Democratic president will be sworn in. Some LGBT activists, infuriated by the president-elect's decision to invite evangelical pastor Rick Warren to pray at his inauguration, argue that Obama must do better than the last two Democratic presidencies, which they believe have resulted in pro-gay judicial appointments but too little else. Jimmy Carter was the first to invite gay activists to a White House meeting ( which he did not attend ) ; Bill Clinton was the first to pursue gay voters during his presidential campaign. Yet Carter said little to nothing in the course of Anita Bryant's national anti-gay crusade, and Clinton's left us with the Defense of Marriage Act ( DOMA ) and "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

To put Obama's stunning statement in context, it helps to know how things were going for him in mid-February 1996: he was in the middle of a messy standoff with the 13th District's incumbent state Senator, Alice Palmer. After promising not to run for reelection and publicly endorsing Obama, a civil rights lawyer who had never held office, Palmer changed her mind in December 1995 and tried to get back into the race. For several weeks, neither candidate backed down, while local political leaders sought a resolution. The conflict would end in a matter of days, when Obama supporters successfully challenged the validity of signatures collected by Palmer's campaign. But on the day the fax went to Outlines, Obama was an unlikely candidate, up against a progressive incumbent in a very progressive district, who needed all the help he could get.

Earlier, in January, Obama had filled out his first known questionnaire on LGBT issues, which his campaign faxed to IMPACT Illinois, which was then the state's LGBT political action committee. Instead of asking about marriage directly, IMPACT asked candidates if they would support a resolution stating that "marriage is a basic human right and an individual personal choice" and that the state "should not interfere" with same-sex couples' right to marry. Obama's response, which appears to bear similarities to his handwriting on other documents from the period that have been released, was "I would support such a resolution." Other answers, expressing unfamiliarity with HIV laws and with two openly gay candidates for office, reflect Obama's inexperience.

The two questionnaires are an artifact, of course, of a very different moment in Obama's history, but also in the history of the same-sex marriage debate. Beginning in 1995, after the highest court in Obama's native Hawaii began seeking to force that state to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples, legislators in statehouses nationwide stampeded to ban the practice preemptively. On Feb. 13, 1996, just two days before Obama submitted the questionnaire, Republican Peter Fitzgerald of Palatine had unveiled a "defense of marriage" bill in the Illinois State Senate. The bill was signed into law in May by Gov. Jim Edgar; soon, Bill Clinton would sign the federal DOMA, which remains on the books. Obama clearly stated his opposition to such laws.

Today, the president-elect says he does not support "legalizing same-sex marriages." As late as his early 2004 interview with Baim in this publication, he added a qualification, saying, "I am not a supporter of gay marriage as it has been thrown about, primarily just as a strategic issue." Since the 2004 election, same-sex marriage has become far more widely discussed, and more politically explosive, than in 1996. Meanwhile, with his every word under scrutiny, Obama phrases his policy positions meticulously. To his credit, Obama, whose parents' interracial marriage in 1961 would have been illegal in several states, has generally avoided the phrase "traditional marriage," which has become popular among politicians who prefer not to mention the gay and lesbian people who are concretely helped or harmed by their decisions. On the other hand, the Warren debacle raises questions about his commitment to deliver for a constituency that overwhelmingly backed him against John McCain.

President Obama will be the first occupant of the Oval Office who has a real history with the LGBT community. Even Clinton, who famously embraced gay voters on the campaign trail in 1992, had never done so as governor of Arkansas. It will be a major change to have a president who has spent his entire 12-year political career in environments in which the LGBT community has been an organized constituency, and has sought LGBT endorsements in every campaign. What remains to be seen, though, is whether it is a change we can believe in.

Timothy Stewart-Winter is a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Chicago, writing his dissertation on lesbian and gay politics in Chicago.

Also see related story: Windy City Times exclusive: Obama's Marriage Views Changed. WCT Examines His Step Back, News analysis by Tracy Baim,

at the link:

This article shared 2 times since Wed Jan 14, 2009
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email


Gay News

Obama not making 'news on marriage equality' any time soon 2011-07-06
News update posted Wed., June 29, 2011 - President Obama, at a midday nationally televised press conference June 29, was repeatedly pressed for his views on marriage equality. He spoke out strongly against discrimination based on sexual orientation and detailed many of the things ...

Gay News

Obama spokesman denies 1996 gay survey 2011-06-22
Posted June 17, 2011, updated June 21 - Despite a statement by President Barack Obama's White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer June 17 that a 1996 survey response was not written by the then-candidate for Illinois state Senate, Windy City Times newspaper stands by ...

Gay News

Windy City times exclusive: Obama marriage story goes national 2009-01-21
1998 survey shows another shift - PICTURED: The Rachel Maddow show featured the Windy City Times exclusive Jan. 14. At left is the excerpt they showed, at right is Maddow asking Bishop Gene Robinson about the apparent change of heart Obama has ...

Gay News

Obama changed views on gay marriage 2009-02-01
- 1996 statement: 'I favor legalizing same-sex marriages' During the final weeks of the presidential campaign last fall, several media outlets contacted Windy City Times because of an old Internet story from the 1996 Illinois State Senate ...

Gay News

Obama changed views on gay marriage 2009-02-18
Links to Windy City Times articles on Obama, gay marriage - Obama changed views on gay marriage News Analysis by Tracy Baim, 2009-02-01 Windy City times exclusive: Obama marriage story goes national, 1998 survey shows another ...

Gay News

Letters: Obama on Marriage; Gay Games 2004-02-11
- Obama on Marriage As an African-American man, a child of an interracial marriage, a committed scholar, attorney and activist who works to protect the Bill of Rights, I am sensitive to the struggle for civil ...

Gay News

Obama seeks U.S. Senate seat 2004-02-04
- Pictured Obama at a press conference announcing his GLBT support. Photo by Tracy Baim Windy City Times is interviewing several of the top candidates for U.S. Senate. Leading up to the March 16 primary, look each ...


Copyright © 2023 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.






About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Advanced Search     
Windy City Queercast      Queercast Archives     
Press  Releases      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast      Blogs     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam     
Privacy Policy     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.