For bonus points: This moment has spared White House press secretary Jay Carney from the contortions he had been forced to perform as he explained why the president opposed same-sex marriage but also opposed state measures to ban same-sex marriage because they "deny rights to LGBT Americans."
Mitt Romney's position on same-sex couples has evolved, as well. In 1994, when he was a candidate for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, Romney told the gay Log Cabin Republicans that he supported "full equality" for homosexuals. Last week, he sang a different tune when he voiced his opposition to "civil unions" that have "identical" rights as traditional marriage.
Thus, both Obama and Romney have taken positions that appeal more to their respective parties' bases than to moderate voters.
The latest Gallup poll reports that 50 percent of Americans think same-sex marriage should be legal, while 48 percent do not. But there is reason to believe that polls are not an accurate barometer, at least among voters.
Last week, North Carolina became the 30th state to ban gay marriage in its state constitution. In six states and the District of Columbia, where same-sex marriage is recognized, courts or legislators changed the law. But every time a state's voters have had an opportunity to vote on same-sex marriage, they have voted to ban it, not legalize it. Voters in my very blue state of California passed a law restricting marriage to one man and one woman, with 52 percent of the vote, in 2008.
Jonathan Rauch, a gay man who is a guest scholar at The Brookings Institution, estimated that, because people lie, polls are off by a 5-point margin. Rauch sees the Obama decision as courageous but against the president's re-election interest, as it threatens to cost Obama precious votes in key swing states.
Policywise the Obama about-face does not change much. Obama's Department of Justice already announced that it will not defend legal challenges to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, signed by President Bill Clinton.