President Barack Obama announcing his support of gay marriage during a May 9, 2012 interview for ABC News. Source: "Barack Obama Photos," ABCNews.go.com (accessed May 10, 2012)
President Barack Obama declared his support for gay marriage on May 9, 2012, becoming the first sitting US president to do so. Obama’s statement came one day after North Carolina voters approved an amendment to the state’s constitution by 61% to 39% that bans same-sex marriages and civil unions across the state.
Obama made the declaration during a taped interview for ABC News: "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." Obama had planned to reveal his new position before November’s presidential election, he explained, but was forced to move up the announcement after Vice President Joe Biden commented on May 6 that he was "absolutely comfortable" with same-sex couples having equal marriage rights. "Would I have preferred to have done this in my own way on my own terms without, I think, there being a lot of notice to everybody? Of course," Obama said. "But all's well that ends well."
Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee for the 2012 presidential election, responded to Obama's statement by reaffirming his belief that "marriage itself is between a man and a woman... This is a very tender and sensitive topic, as are many social issues, but I have the same view that I’ve had since running for office." Romney more fully articulated his view during the Aug. 11, 2011 Republican presidential debate when he said: "I believe we should have a federal amendment in the constitution that defines marriage as a relationship between a man and woman, because I believe the ideal place to raise a child is in a home with a mom and a dad."
Romney's senior advisor Ed Gillespie promised to campaign on the issue, stating "this is going to be a decision in November where there are big differences between the two nominees for the presidency… and, you know, government sanction of same-sex marriage is now one of them."
Gay marriage has been legalized in eight US states and the District of Columbia. With the North Carolina result included, 31 states have now passed amendments to their constitutions to ban same-sex marriages. No state referendum thus far has resulted in gay marriage being legalized.
A Gallup poll released on May 8 found that 50% of Americans approve of legal same-sex marriage, the second time in Gallup’s history when at least half of Americans surveyed voiced their support for gay marriage. 48% were opposed. Public support for gay marriage increased at a rate of 1 to 1.5 points per year from 1988 to 2010, with evidence suggesting an acceleration of support since 2009.
Obama’s views on gay marriage appear to have come full circle since Feb. 15, 1996, when the then-Illinois State Senate candidate said: "I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages." In 2004, however, Obama said his religious faith dictates that "marriage is between a man and a woman," and that he does not feel marriage itself is "a civil right." In 2008, Obama again defined marriage as "the union between a man and a woman… It’s also a sacred union. God’s in the mix." By 2010, he seemed to be modifying his views: "My feelings about this are constantly evolving. I struggle with this," he said, still maintaining his preference for a "strong civil union" for same-sex couples. On Feb. 23, 2011, Obama instructed the Justice Department to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a federal law that defines marriage as a legal union between a man and woman, over concerns that it violates the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment.
Obama said his views have now solidified after discussions with his wife and daughters, and with gay couples themselves: "When I hear from them the pain they feel that somehow they are still considered less than full citizens when it comes to their legal rights, then, for me, I think it just has tipped the scales in that direction."
An Obama ally disappointed with the president’s change of heart is one of his spiritual advisors, Rev. Joel Hunter of Florida, who received a call from Obama after the ABC News interview. Hunter assured the president that the difference of opinion would not threaten their relationship: "A pastor doesn’t abandon people because he happens to disagree with the decisions that they’ve made," Hunter said.
Carol E. Lee, "Obama Supports Same-Sex Marriage," WSJ.com, May 9, 2012
Andrew Kaczynski, "An Obama Gay Marriage Timeline," BuzzFeed.com, May 9, 2012
Brian Knowlton and Michael Barbaro, "Biden ‘Comfortable’ with Gay Marriage," NYTimes.com, May 6, 2012
Alex Koppelman, "G.O.P. Playing Wait-and-See on Obama and Gay Marriage," NewYorker.com, May 9, 2012
Frank Newport, "Half of Americans Support Legal Gay Marriage," Gallup.com, May 8, 2012
ProCon.org, gaymarriage.procon.org (accessed May 10, 2012)
"Romney Reacts to Obama’s Support of Same-Sex Marriage," MSNBC.MSN.com, May 9, 2012
Aliyah Shahid, "Obama: Biden’s Remarks on Gay Marriage Forced Me to Move Up Announcement, But No Hard Feelings," NYDailyNews.com, May 10, 2012
Felicia Sonmez, "Obama Spiritual Adviser Joel Hunter Concerned About Support of Gay Marriage," WashingtonPost.com, May 10, 2012
"Transcript: Robin Roberts ABC News Interview with President Obama," ABCNews.go.com, May 9, 2012
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