When it comes to the race for the Democratic presidential nominee, I’m not totally With Her and I’m not really feeling the Bern. Neither candidate fully embodies the things I believe in. I had similar feelings back in 2008, when it was Hillary and Barack racing to snatch up delegates; as an activist, I was skeptical of how much hope and change I could really expect from whomever was elected. Yet over the course of Obama’s presidency, I’ve learned that there’s one thing I particularly value in a leader: the ability to evolve and champion a cause of the people.
Obama entered the White House in 2008 as, at least publicly, a lukewarm supporter of civil unions for same sex couples — not a president with marriage equality on his agenda. That stance reflected a large swath of public opinion at the time. But as the issue continued to be fiercely debated across the country, and as states either banned same-sex marriage or upheld recognition of civil unions and same-sex marriages, that public opinion was shifting. By the end of 2012, American approval of same sex marriage was clearly on the rise, with 10 states officially recognizing same-sex marriage, eight more seriously considering it, and nearly every state at least debating the matter in some form. In 2013, California’s Proposition 8, the same-sex marriage ban that passed via public vote in 2008, was struck down by the Supreme Court.
Obama had said he was evolving on the issue, but in May of 2012 he openly stated his support, saying, “I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.” Some argued Vice President Joe Biden’s prior expression of support was a premature gaffe that forced Obama’s hand, but the President stood by his statements. Whether a politically expedient choice or genuine evolution in thought, this staunch support for marriage equality from the highest office in the country signaled recognition that public opinion had indeed changed, and that this, in turn, was a legitimate catalyst for political progress. In 2015, when SCOTUS ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, Obama celebrated the decision along with everyone who had been fighting for that right for decades.
How did we go from a president echoing the sentiment that marriage was between a man and a woman to one openly celebrating marriage equality becoming a nationwide reality? Obama’s own compassion for LGBT people combined with his willingness to respond to changing public opinion and the work of activists on this issue made this shift possible.
As I think of all the issues on people’s minds this election year -- prison and police reform, immigration, reproductive rights, economic justice, and more -- I’m not looking for a candidate who gets all of it totally right at this exact moment. That would be impossible. I want a candidate who is open and willing to evolve on these issues as passionate citizens work for change. Regardless of who wins the White House, it’s up to us to protest, demand justice under the law, elect supportive legislators at every level of government, and support change for the betterment of all people in America. A president who possesses that capacity for evolution -- humble, pragmatic, and willing to listen -- that’s who I’m voting for. Our ballots cast this spring and fall should be not only expressions of which candidates speak to our needs most strongly in the moment, but investments of faith in what they could become.