How Ken Mehlman got Obama onboard with gay marriage

Jo Becker’s long awaited historical account on the legal gay marriage is out, and it has certainly proven controversial and splashy. An investigative journalist inserted in top level political sessions concerning the issue, her book “Forcing The Spring” covers the legal and political workings behind the curtain from Prop 8 onwards. A particularly interesting segment was published as an excerpt before release on the New York Times detailing the events running up to Obama becoming the first US president to endorse gay marriage.

Apparently the jump wasn’t as smooth as it initially appeared. On a Meet The Press interview in 2012, Vice President Joseph Biden started it all by given a stuttering but sincere endorsement of gay marriage. The result was a scramble in the White House to correct the fact that, as Biden’s communications director put it, he had “gotten in front of the President on gay marriage”. So now the White House needed a tactful way for the President to take his stance on the issue and they needed it immediately. But who to call?

According to Becker’s account, former Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman was called in to offer his advice. Mehlman was also President Bush’s 2004 campaign manager and held several significant White House positions during Bush’s presidency, but he was also a classmate of Obama’s from Harvard and had recently come out as gay himself. Mehlman believed that Obama had a public image as an “idealist that would put politics aside and do what was right” and that endorsing same-sex marriage in the correct fashion would serve that image. I can’t say I’ve read Becker’s book yet (and given what I’m hearing I’m not sure I will) but the published excerpt was nonetheless an enlightening look at a historic turn in US presidency.

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