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Obama on Gay Rights and Abortion

Specific Policy Positions

Same-sex marriage Is personally opposed to same-sex marriage but criticized the proposition to amend California's constitution to deny gays and lesbians the right to marry. Opposed the federal marriage amendment in 2006 and also favors repealing the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which gives a state the right not to recognize same-sex marriages performed in another state.

"Don't ask, don't tell" Advocates repealing the current policy preventing gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. Contends that the policy is not working and that the services are losing members as a result.


Discrimination/hate crimes Supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act barring job discrimination based on sexual orientation. Also backs civil unions and says that gays and lesbians should receive the same health insurance coverage, property rights, and employment benefits accorded to married couples. Favors expanding the definition of hate crimes to include sexual orientation.

Roe v. Wade Strongly supports the 1973 Supreme Court decision on abortion rights and says he will oppose any constitutional measure to overturn it.

"Partial-birth" abortion Says he would support a ban on "partial-birth" abortions but only if it provides an exception to protect the health of the pregnant woman. Criticized Gonzales v. Carhart, the 2007 Supreme Court decision that upheld the constitutionality of the late-term abortion law.


Unwanted pregnancies/birth control Supports efforts to reduce unwanted pregnancies by expanding the availability of contraceptives and providing equity in health coverage for birth control. Favors comprehensive sex education and would offer rape victims information about emergency contraception. Also would repeal the so-called Mexico City policy, which bars federal funding for international nongovernmental organizations involved in abortion-related services.

Key Advisers

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., a strong Capitol Hill ally, has co-authored a bill with Obama to make birth control more affordable for low-income and college women. Steve Hildebrand, Obama's deputy national campaign director, is highly respected in both gay- and abortion-rights circles. Hildebrand, who is openly gay, managed Senate campaigns of South Dakota Democrats Tom Daschle and Tim Johnson. And he was a leader in helping defeat the abortion ban in a 2006 ballot initiative in South Dakota. Melody Barnes, who is now a senior domestic policy adviser for the Obama campaign, has served on the board of EMILY's List and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. Anita Dunn, a top adviser and media strategist, is a longtime supporter of the abortion-rights movement. Dave Noble, former public policy director at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, is director of the LGBT vote for the campaign.


Discrimination: As a state senator in Illinois, co-sponsored a bill to outlaw job and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Family planning/abortion: Co-sponsored a bill with Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., to make birth control more affordable for low-income and college women. Also co-sponsored, but did not vote on, Sen. Barbara Boxer's amendment to repeal the Mexico City policy. Co-sponsored the Prevention First Act, which aims to reduce unintended pregnancies by providing additional funds for such efforts as family-planning services and comprehensive sex education.


Abortion restrictions: Co-sponsored the Freedom of Choice Act, which would codify Roe v. Wade and could override state laws restricting access to abortion. As a state senator, cast a controversial vote against an Illinois bill extending legal protections to a fetus that survives an abortion.

Parental notification: Voted against a 2006 bill making it a crime to transport a minor across state lines for an abortion without parental consent.

Key Interest Groups

Planned Parenthood Action Fund: This group has raised its profile with Cecile Richards, daughter of the late Texas Gov. Ann Richards, at the helm. Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., were the first presidential candidates to address Planned Parenthood at a national conference for the organization's action fund in 2007. The fund puts Obama's voting record on abortion-rights issues at 100 percent.

NARAL Pro-Choice America: The reproductive-rights organization endorsed Obama over Clinton during the Democratic primary, a decision that drew criticism from the campaign group EMILY's List. In the general election, NARAL is focused on organizing Republican and independent women who support abortion rights, and it has identified more than 200,000 such voters in more than two dozen congressional districts.

Human Rights Campaign: The most prominent gay-and-lesbian-rights group in Washington strongly supports Obama.

This article appears in the July 19, 2008 edition of National Journal Magazine Contents.

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