President Obama was a liar about gay marriage. He initially supported it, and then said he didn’t, but said he was “evolving” on it. That was a transparent ruse, and a cynical one, but not in a normal cynical way. Yes, it was partly just to get elected. But while Obama wasn’t a leader on gay rights, he was a promoter of them. He normalized the tone in which we talked about gay rights, made it clear that there wasn’t anything weird or unhealthy about them- that it was frankly strange to be opposed- and helped to mainstream activism. He worked to overturn DOMA and DADT, and when he officially endorsed gay marriage, after Joe Biden delightfully jumped forward with it, it seemed perfectly normal. When it became the law of the land, it was met by most people with either joy or a shrug. There are some rearguard monsters who will fight against it, but I feel like most people were embarrassed that they once thought it maybe it shouldn’t be legal. That’s what the Obama “leading from behind” mentality was. Let the activists do the work and lead, and help create an atmosphere for their success. The activists deserve to be lauded throughout history for what they accomplished, but the President also deserves some credit for his ability to make the thought of gay marriage normal.
Pope Francis is not President Obama (although they are both invited to my place for dinner at any time). I don’t know if he actually approves of gay marriage, or is wants to see it happen, or is working for it, in a way that I always knew Obama did. Still, though, he is changing the tone of the Church, and in many ways that is far braver and bolder. He may not be going far enough for many activists, but I think he is going as far as a Pope can. He may be, like Obama, leading from behind, but the trail is considerably longer.