January 24, 2015 at 3:31 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Obama gets pass on describing being gay as ‘lifestyle choice’
GloZell Green, Barack Obama, YouTube, gay news, Washington Blade

Barack Obama told GloZell Green being gay is a “lifestyle choice.” (Image via YouTube)

President Obama deviated this week from the language considered acceptable for talking about gay people when he described the lives of same-sex couples as a “lifestyle choice” — but virtually no one cares.

The Washington Blade reached out to various LGBT groups, including the Human Rights Campaign, the National LGBTQ Task Force and GLAAD, to ask whether they objected to Obama’s use of the phrase. None of those groups responded to a request to comment on that language, which is widely considered unacceptable and offensive because it suggests that sexual orientation is a choice.

Obama also said he hopes the Supreme Court makes the “right decision” on pending litigation seeking marriage rights for same-sex couples.

“I’m hopeful the Supreme Court comes to the right decision, but I will tell you, people’s hearts have opened up on this issue,” Obama said. “I think people know that treating folks unfairly, even if you disagree with their lifestyle choice, the fact of the matter is, they’re not bothering you. Let them live their lives, and under the law, they should be treated equally.”

Obama’s faux pas comes the same week that he made history by becoming the first president ever to say the words “lesbian,” “bisexual” and “transgender” in a State of the Union address.

The White House didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on whether Obama regrets using the phrase “lifestyle choice” in the interview. The White House also didn’t respond to clarify if Obama meant the “right decision” from the Supreme Court would be a 50-state ruling against all remaining state bans on same-sex marriage.

Richard Socarides, a gay New York-base Democratic activist who has taken Obama to task before on LGBT issues, said he doesn’t feel criticism of Obama is necessary here.

“I think he was no doubt speaking in short hand and I’m sure he knows that ‘lifestyle’ is not a good word choice in this context,” Socarides said. “I also think that given his record, even us purists can give him a pass on this one.”

John Aravosis, editor of AMERICAblog, emphasized that Obama chose the words while speaking out in support of a favorable ruling on marriage from the Supreme Court for same-sex couples.

“In the grand scheme of things I’m far happier that President Obama is being our fierce advocate on marriage equality than I am upset about an anachronistic phrase,” Aravosis said. “I’m sure by now someone on staff has told him that the phrase isn’t used anymore. Considering the man’s now-stellar record on our issues, I’m happy to give a pass on this one.”

Aravosis added he also doesn’t take issue with LGBT groups remaining silent given Obama’s record to this point.

“Obama has done practically everything we’ve asked of him at this point,” Aravosis said. “He’s earned the right for us to give him the occasional pass on minor issues. And in the grand scheme, considering his record and the pro-gay context of the quote, it’s pretty minor.”

Obama has previously refuted the idea that being gay is a choice. According to CNN, in a town-hall style event in 2010 he told students, “I don’t think it’s a choice. I think people are born with a certain make-up.”

But we’ve been here before with Obama administration officials. In 2010, Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to the president, issued an apology when she made virtually identical remarks. In an interview with the Washington Post’s Jonathan Capeheart, Jarrett said the parents of Justin Aaberg, a gay Minnesota teenager who killed himself, did a good job because they loved him and “supported his lifestyle choice.”

“I meant no disrespect to the LGBT community, and I apologize to any who have taken offense at my poor choice of words,” Jarrett said later. “Sexual orientation and gender identity are not a choice, and anyone who knows me and my work over the years knows that I am a firm believer and supporter in the rights of LGBT Americans.”

Moreover, LGBT rights groups have taken Republicans to task when GOP officials and political hopefuls have made similar comments. In 2011, former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza Herman Cain, then the front-runner in the race to become the Republican presidential nominee, ignited a firestorm of controversy when he said in an interview on “The View” that being gay is a choice.

“Well, you show me the science that it’s not and I’ll be persuaded,” Cain said. “Right now it’s my opinion against the opinions of others who feel differently. That’s just a difference of opinions.”

At the time, then-Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese rebuked Cain for making remarks that were “frankly, jaw-dropping and certainly unbecoming of a presidential hopeful.”

Of course, Cain doesn’t nearly have the record that Obama has on LGBT issues. Weeks after making the comments on “The View,” Cain suggested he supports a U.S. constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage across the country.

David Badash, a New York-based advocate and editor of The New Civil Rights Movement, said he believes Obama, unlike others, knows being gay isn’t a choice despite his choice of words in the YouTube interview.

“President Obama has more than proven his support for the civil rights of LGBT people, so it was surprising — but not troubling — to hear him in an unscripted and casual interview use the phrase ‘lifestyle choice’ when speaking about same-sex marriage,” Badash said. “While those who do not support equality like to use that phrase as ‘evidence’ that people are not born LGBT, we know, and we know the president knows, it’s not a choice, any more than being born left-handed or with red-hair is.”

The exception to the lack of concern over Obama choice of words is gay Republicans, who say LGBT groups are treating Obama with a double-standard.

Ric Grenell, a gay Republican strategist who worked briefly on the Mitt Romney presidential campaign, said the silence among LGBT rights groups demonstrates they have a bias in favor of Democrats.

“If a Republican said being gay was a lifestyle choice, gay leaders in D.C. would be apoplectic from Dupont Circle to Capitol Hill,” Grenell said. “HRC and the other phony Democrat partisans posing as gay rights leaders are desperate to keep gay rights a partisan issue. Sadly, they do so at the expense of the movement and to the benefit their own careers.”

Grenell added he hopes the “conservative Roberts court agrees and ends this partisan debate,” referring to pending litigation seeking marriage equality before the court.

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said he anticipated a correction from the White House in the near future.

“Despite his sustained calls for equal rights for LGBT Americans, gaffes like this continue to make Obama’s pro-equality overtures seem like political pandering,” Angelo said. “Don’t be surprised to see Josh Earnest say the president ‘misspoke’ in the coming days.”

Obama has left Washington for the upcoming week to visit India and Saudi Arabia to pay his respects to the departed King Abdullah. If the White House were to issue a correction, it would have to be on the gaggle during the trip or the next on-camera White House news briefing upon Obama’s return.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

7 Comments
  • I would note a minor objection to the choice of phrase as a matter of principle, but Ric Grenell is a pathetic joke. I have little doubt that the same groups would also have given Grenell's 24-hour employer Mitt Romney a break too, if Romney didn't simultaneously oppose gay marriage and gay civil unions and gay domestic partnerships and every version of ENDA and DADT repeal, and if he hadn't orchestrated a massive resistance jihad against gay marriage in Massachusetts, and if he didn't support a federal constitutional amendment to render the sniveling Grenell and every other gay person a constitutional outcast. It must take a super-human degree of self-hatred to blindly, rabidly, and unconvincingly spew attack lines for a party that fired you because the bigots who pervade your party think you're a degenerate abomination unfit for any public existence. If Grenell weren't so comically obnoxious and lacking in self-awareness, he'd almost be pitiable. But as it is, he's seems to just wander the planet spitting nearly incoherent bile at gay Democrats. Well, it wasn't gay Democrats–or any Democrats–who fired his ass because he's a f-ggot.

  • The Blade raised the question in a Blade opinion piece regarding larger WH LGBT press treatment issues.
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    However, the fact that national LGBT activists have been alerted, and commented on it– and we're all still chattering about it here– is self-evident proof that President Obama has *NOT* been given a pass on his LGBT parlance faux pas.
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    Sure the LGBT GOP is making a little hay out of it — out of desperation, really. But does anyone think the president is going to repeat the mistake without it resulting in similar "bad press" from LGBTs in the future, irrespective of their party politics?
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    Kudos to the Blade for raising the issue and the question. However innocent the intention, no use of offensive references by a POTUS ought be ignored.
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    Still, the larger issues of apparent WH Press Office discriminatory treatment of LGBT news organizations remains. It is far more important the president addresses those questions/ issues when he gets a chance.
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  • Chris Johnson you and this publication 'The Blade' y'all gonna learn yet. Your nagging is a turnoff not an encouragement. Anything this Man say is scrutinized. Just wait till he's gone. You'll wish he wasn't. LOL!

  • Obama please pay these folks no mind. These queens play too much! LOL!

  • Ric (no k) Grenell: Democrats aren't desperate to keep gay rights a partisan issue. The Republicans do that quite well on their own. Almost every piece of ant-LGBT legislation, ballot initiative or proposal is initiated and supported almost exclusively by Republicans. They sat on their hands and scowled when the President touted the progress made toward LGBT equality. And get ready for the anti-equal marriage sh*t storm soon to be excreted from the mouths of RepubIican presidential hopefuls. And Gregory Angelo – are you serious? The President is "pandering"? Name one R who would have taken any of the steps he has. As the head of the Logs surely you remember Romney kissing your sycophantic butts when he ran for Governor and then chucking you under the bus as soon as he was elected. Logs = impediments on the waterways to progress. Gay repugnicans, put a sign on your butt: "Kick me!"

  • The only way to justify a behavior is to MAKE people believe that the individual has no choice in the matter. This is the basis for the Gay agenda. I offer these examples. A man has been married for 25 years to his high school sweetheart. The whole time he has looked and other women, romanticized about having sex with other women, and maybe even had strong feelings towards a co-worker. The good news is he has a CHOICE on how he acts on those urges/feelings. Now, I'm sure if the man acts on his "feelings and urges" and has an affair then he can just dismiss it as "I was born this way" meaning that he was born to lust after women. (sadly a lot of men do believe this) This does not dismiss the fact that this is a morally wrong behavior. Who sets the moral standard you may ask? God!!
    Society may change its view of certain sinful behaviors, such as how our society now glorifies scandal and affairs, but that doesn't make it right. Only the most irrational of people actually believe that a person’s sexuality is not acted out by choice.
    Here is another example, a woman loves money and knows it is wrong to rob a bank. She may have the strongest urges from deep inside her soul to act that out, BUT she knows it is wrong and will not do it. It would be absurd for her to try and justify her urge to do something that is wrong by saying she has no choice because she was born this way.
    Homosexuality is wrong. I believe it is a sin because the ultimate authority has said so. As a Christian we believe that anyone that has not been born again through saving faith in Jesus Christ will stand judgment for their sins when they die. Let me just pause and state that the bible includes the man and woman in the scenarios above.
    As Christians, we get a bad rap for stating that our belief is that Homosexuality is sin but I would like anyone who is reading this to ponder this deeper than what the media has you to believe. If a Christian is loving and wholeheartedly believes the gospel of Jesus Christ is true and the bible is what it claims to be, then a gay person should realize that even though they aren't hearing what they want to hear The Christian loves them and displays this through being truthful and honest with them. It is the media and people like our politicians that are telling them what to hear so they can get their support or votes. This isn’t loving to me
    One last remark. It is not being a homosexual that sends people to hell. It is the fact that all of us humans have sinned against a Holy God. We have all (just to name a few) lied, stolen, blasphemed God, and lusted. The list could go on and on. The only thing that will matter when we breathe our last is if the Lord Jesus Christ has paid for our sin through us being born again. I realize some may not believe this and if so I challenge you to read the bible and make a decision for YOURSELF. Not based on what other people say. That includes me

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