Facing growing pressure from his liberal base and members of his own administration, President Obama said Wednesday that he now supports same-sex marriage “personally,” reversing his long-stated opposition.
“At a certain point, I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” Mr. Obama told ABC News’ Robin Roberts in an interview arranged specifically on the hot-button issue at the White House.
He said his position, which he also explained in religious terms, has evolved “over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors.”
He is the first president to voice support for same-sex marriage, although Mr. Obama didn’t say in the excerpt aired by ABC how or whether he would pursue it as administration policy.
The president did say he still supports the concept of states deciding the issue — a stance that, if allowed to stand by gay advocacy groups, would leave intact the 32 states that have approved constitutional amendments that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
For a politician who spent years trying not to be pinned down on the issue, Mr. Obama made the announcement with startling swiftness, three days after Vice President Joseph R. Biden declared his support for gay marriage on a Sunday talk show. Mr. Biden’s comment that he was “absolutely comfortable” with same-sex marriage turned up the heat on Mr. Obama from gay-rights groups, the media and prominent Democrats to take a stand.
Many observers suspected that Mr. Obama favored gay marriage previously but did not want to say so, but now that the president is on record, the issue is sure to play a role in his re-election campaign. Polls show voters are about evenly divided on gay marriage, and there was concern among Democrats even before the president’s announcement about its potential impact among independent voters in battleground states.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said on the campaign trail Wednesday that he remains opposed to same-sex marriage.
“My position is the same on gay marriage as it’s been well, from the beginning, and that is that marriage is a relation between a man and a woman,” Mr. Romney told KCNC-TV in Denver. “That’s the posture that I had as governor and I have that today.”
Gay-rights groups and progressives hailed the president’s announcement as historic.
“President Obama made history by boldly stating that gay and lesbian Americans should be fully and equally part of the fabric of American society and that our families deserve nothing less than the equal respect and recognition that comes through marriage,” Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said in a statement. “In him, millions of young Americans have seen that their futures will not be limited by what makes them different.”
Said Justin Ruben, executive director of MoveOn.org, “The president’s support for marriage equality is great news that’s likely to energize progressive activists across the country.”
But a gay Republican group, Log Cabin Republicans, criticized Mr. Obama’s announcement as “offensive and callous” and pointed out that it came too late to influence voters in North Carolina, who approved a constitutional amendment Tuesday that affirmed legal marriage as only between a man and a woman.
“Log Cabin Republicans appreciate that President Obama has finally come in line with leaders like Vice President Dick Cheney on this issue,” the group’s executive director, R. Clarke Cooper, said in a statement. “This administration has manipulated [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered] families for political gain as much as anybody, and after his campaign’s ridiculous contortions to deny support for marriage equality this week he does not deserve praise for an announcement that comes a day late and a dollar short.”
Religious conservatives also were critical, with Jim Campbell, litigation staff counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, saying the announcement “shows that the Obama administration doesn’t understand the public purpose of marriage. Marriage — the lifelong, faithful union of one man and one woman — is the building block of a thriving society.”