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Obama In 2004: "I Don't Think Marriage Is A Civil Right"

During a candidate forum on October 26, 2004, Obama was asked to elaborate on his views of gay marriage and said he believes "that marriage is between a man and a woman" and "I don't think marriage is a civil right." Transcript below.

PONCE: “Mr. Obama, you've said that your religious faiths, your religious faith, dictates that marriage should be between a man and a woman. Would you elaborate on that?”

OBAMA: “Well, what I believe is that marriage is between a man and a woman, but what I also believe is that we have an obligation to make sure that gays and lesbians have the rights of citizenship that afford them visitations to hospitals, that allow them to be, to transfer property between partners, to make certain that they're not discriminated on the job. I think that bundle of rights are absolutely critical.”

PONCE: “Excuse me, but as far as, why? What in your religious faith calls you to be against gay marriage?”

OBAMA: “Well, what I believe, in my faith, is that a man and a woman, when they get married, are performing something before God, and it's not simply the two persons who are meeting. But that doesn't mean that that necessarily translates into a position on public policy or with respect to civil unions. What it does mean is that we have a set of traditions in place that, I think, need to be preserved, but I also think we have to make sure that gays and lesbians have the same set of basic rights that are in place. And I was glad to see, for example, that the president today apparently stated that he was in favor of civil unions. This may be a reversal of his position but I think it's a healthy one. I think, on this, President Bush and I disagree, apparently, with Mr. Keyes on this, because I think that that kind of basic ethic of regard towards all people, regardless of sexual orientation, is a valuable thing.”

PONCE: “Let me ask you, let me interrupt and ask you a very quick follow-up question. Do you believe homosexuality is a choice?”

OBAMA: “No. I don't. I--I—I…”

PONCE: “You think it's innate.”

OBAMA: “I think that, for the most part, it is innate. I think that, obviously, it may vary in certain circumstances, but I think that it is something that is a part of their identity. Now—but…”

PONCE: “That being the case, Mr. Obama--that being the case, if something is not a choice, if something is innate, then why isn't it a civil right, and why isn't your support of…”

OBAMA: “Well, I think that…”

PONCE: “…civil unions, as opposed to marriage…”

OBAMA: “…I think that…”

PONCE: “…does that amount to ‘separate, but equal’?”

OBAMA: “No. I think there are a whole host of things that are civil rights, and then there are other things--such as traditional marriage--that, I think, express a community's concern and regard for a particular institution.”

PONCE: “So, marriage is not a civil right, as far as you're concerned.”

OBAMA: “I don't think marriage is a civil right, but I think that being able…”

PONCE: “Is it a human right?”

OBAMA: “But I think that being able to transfer property is a civil right. I think not being…”

PONCE: “Do you think marriage is a human right?”

OBAMA: “I think that not being able to, not being discriminated against is a civil right. I think making sure that we don't engage in the sort of gay-bashing that, I think, has unfortunately dominated this campaign--not just here in Illinois, but across the country--I think, is unfortunate, and I think that that kind of mean-spirited attacks on homosexuals is something that the people of Illinois generally have rejected.”

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