As Dana noted, Barack Obama came out forcefully against the proposed anti-marriage constitutional amendment in California this weekend. But, though I think this is an encouraging move, I have to agree with Rick Gorka, a McCain spokesman, that it does represent a flip-flop.
The language of the amendment reads, "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." This is the exact same language as Proposition 22, the ballot initiative banning same-sex marriage that the California Supreme Court overruled last month. The initiative was found to not ban domestic partnerships by California courts prior to the Supreme Court's ruling invalidating it entirely. Domestic partnerships in California are basically equivalent to civil unions in other states, meaning that if the constitutional amendment passes, and domestic partnerships remain intact, Obama's previously stated policy of civil unions rather than marriage would be satisfied.
This is not to say that Obama is wrong to reverse his position; taking a more progressive stand on a core civil rights issue in the middle of a general election is brave. It's more than past nominees have done, that's for sure. But if Obama is going to flip-flop, he should do it right. That means no more saying that he "believes marriage is between a man and a woman". That means taking from the Sullivan/Rauch approach and framing marriage equality as being about building strong families. That means being honest about the fact that it's a reversal.
Will it lose him some votes? Sure; while support is certainly growing, the country still opposes same-sex marriage by a nine-point margin. But Republicans have been gaining media plaudits for years for taking "principled" stands against what opinion polls suggest is the popular option, and Obama's reformist style puts him in a unique position to break the right's monopoly on that image. If he's serious about changing the game, this would be the place to do it.