President Obama; file photo by Olivier Douliery/Pool-Getty Images
Updated 4:14 p.m. | President Barack Obama declared Wednesday afternoon that he now supports gay marriage.
“Same sex couples should be able to get married,” he said in an interview with ABC News’ Robin Roberts.
The president said he has been going through “an evolution” on the subject and that he hesitated to throw his support behind gay marriage because he thought civil unions would be sufficient.
“I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people the word ‘marriage’ was something that invokes very powerful traditions, religious beliefs and so forth,” he said.
According to ABC, Mr. Obama reiterated that he still supports the rights of states to decide the issue of same-sex marriage on their own.
Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont currently allow same-sex marriage.
Obama spoke about his newly announced support for gay marriage in deeply personal terms, saying his young daughters have friends whose parents are same-sex couples.
“Malia and Sasha, it wouldn’t dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated different,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to them, and frankly, that’s the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective.”
The president said first lady Michelle Obama also was involved in his decision and joins him in supporting gay marriage.
The president’s remarks come a day after voters in North Carolina — a battleground state he’d like to keep in his column this November and where his convention is being held — approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
The shift in position is likely to please his more liberal political base and upset conservatives.
Earlier on Wednesday, Mitt Romney, the president’s presumed Republican opponent in the general election, said he unequivocally opposes “marriage between people of the same gender.”
Polling suggests Americans are now evenly divided on the issue. This chart shows how Americans’ support and opposition of gay marriage has changed over time.
On Sunday, Vice President Joe Biden touched off a political firestorm by saying he now believes same-sex marriages should be protected under law. In the wake of Biden’s remarks, Gwen Ifill led a debate on the topic Monday between Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage and gay rights advocate Richard Socarides:
Reactions from politicians and organizations poured in after the president’s statement:
Log Cabin Republicans called the president’s statement “cold comfort”:
“That the president has chosen today, when LGBT Americans are mourning the passage of Amendment One, to finally speak up for marriage equality is offensive and callous,” said R. Clarke Cooper, Log Cabin Republicans’ executive director. “Log Cabin Republicans appreciate that President Obama has finally come in line with leaders like Vice President Dick Cheney on this issue, but LGBT Americans are right to be angry that this calculated announcement comes too late to be of any use to the people of North Carolina, or any of the other states that have addressed this issue on his watch. This administration has manipulated LGBT 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.”
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg hailed the march of freedom:
“This is a major turning point in the history of American civil rights. No American president has ever supported a major expansion of civil rights that has not ultimately been adopted by the American people — and I have no doubt that this will be no exception. The march of freedom that has sustained our country since the Revolution of 1776 continues, and no matter what setbacks may occur in a given state, freedom will triumph over fear and equality will prevail over exclusion. Today’s announcement is a testament to the President’s convictions, and it builds on the courageous stands that so many Americans have taken over the years on behalf of equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans, stretching back to the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village.”
Theodore B. Olson, lead co-counsel for the American Foundation for Equal Rights said:
“Today is a proud day for all Americans. The bedrock American principles of freedom and human dignity are central to the political and legal convictions of Republicans, Democrats, liberals, and conservatives alike. President Obama’s words remind us that marriage and equality are universal values that unite us all. They remind us that we are al l– as a People and a Nation — striving to form a more perfect Union.”
We’ll have much more on this story on Wednesday’s NewsHour broadcast.