Thomas Haine takes the time to document President Obama's painful, historical "evolution" on "same-sex marriage":
In 1996, Obama affirmed “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.” (In another document that year he promised his support for a gay marriage resolution in Illinois.) But only two years later, on another questionnaire, he was just “undecided.” Then in 2004, he stated, “I am not a supporter of gay marriage as it has been thrown about, primarily as a strategic issue.” In 2006 he wrote “it is my obligation … to remain open to the possibility that my unwillingness to support gay marriage is misguided.” In 2008 at Saddleback Church, he said “I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman.” Again that same year to MTV, “I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. I am not in favor of gay marriage.”
Then, two years after his election, Obama’s public evolution began. In October 2010: “I have been to this point unwilling to sign on to same-sex marriage primarily because of my understandings of the traditional definitions of marriage. But I also think you’re right that attitudes evolve, including mine. … I think it’s fair to say that it’s something that I think a lot about.” In December 2010, he said, “My feelings about this are constantly evolving. I struggle with this.” In June 2011, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer stated, “The president has never favored same-sex marriage. He is against it. The country is evolving on this, and he is evolving on it.” On October 3, 2011, Obama said, “I’m still working on it.” For the next few months it was often reported, and never rejected, that Obama’s opinion was still evolving. Then last week, the administration was lulled out of its slumber by Joe Biden’s bumbling remark on May 6 (which seemed to offer his support for gay marriage), but stuck to the old position that Obama’s opinion was still evolving. Jay Carney stated on May 7 that the President’s opinion “is what it was.” Then, two days later, Obama spoke: “I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”
So, to summarize: Obama was for gay marriage, before he was undecided, before he was against it, before his feelings were evolving again, before he was both against it and evolving at the same time, before he was simply working on it, before his position was “what it was,” before he was for it again, 16 years after the saga began.
Haine then notes: "The reactions to his announcement have been almost as interesting as the narrative itself. Some liberal commentators have reacted tepidly, while others are doing their best to celebrate, painting Obama again as a paragon of political courage. But the only way to admire Obama for his transformation on marriage is to refuse to read the timeline." One suspects that is a risk the President and his advisors are willing to risk. Read Haine's entire essay, "Explaining Obama's Evolution" on the Public Discourse site.
Speaking of timelines, here is a basic graphic depicting the "evolution of civilzation" for those who want to start with the big picture before getting into the details: