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.”
A Gallup poll taken May 3-6 showed that 50 percent of Americans believe same-sex marriage should be legally recognized, with the same rights as traditional marriages, while 48 percent said such marriages should not. The same poll found that 65 percent of Democrats support gay marriage, 57 percent of independent voters support it, but only 22 percent of Republicans favor it.
In 2004, when running for the U.S. Senate and being pushed as a Democratic star, Mr. Obama stated that “marriage is between a man and a woman.” In October 2010, he told bloggers that his views were “evolving” but he was still opposed.
In October 2011, he told an interviewer, “I’m still working on it.”
Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said Mr. Obama needed to take a stand because “this evolving position was going to be untenable over the course of the campaign.”
“The Democratic Party is not going to nominate, ever again, someone who’s not for marriage equality,” she said. “This was starting to get more out of sync with his own party.”
On Wednesday, Mr. Obama said he came to the decision “when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or Marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained … because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage.”
“It’s interesting, some of this is also generational,” the president said in the interview. “You know when I go to college campuses, sometimes I talk to college Republicans who think that I have terrible policies on the economy, on foreign policy, but are very clear that when it comes to same-sex equality or, you know, sexual orientation that they believe in equality. They are much more comfortable with it.”
He said his daughters, Malia and Sasha, “have friends whose parents are same-sex couples.”
“There have been times where Michelle and I have been sitting around the dinner table and we’re talking about their friends and their parents and Malia and Sasha, it wouldn’t dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated differently,” Mr. Obama said. “It doesn’t make sense to them and frankly, that’s the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective.”
“This is something that, you know, we’ve talked about over the years and she, you know, she feels the same way, she feels the same way that I do,” the president said.
“In the end, the values that I care most deeply about, and she cares most deeply about, is how we treat other people. And, you know, I, you know, we are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others. But, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the golden rule, you know, ‘Treat others the way you would want to be treated,’ ” he said.
“I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids and that’s what motivates me as president, and I figure the most consistent I can be in being true to those precepts, the better I’ll be as a dad and a husband and hopefully the better I’ll be as president,” he said.
• Researcher John Sopko contributed to this report.