US President Barack Obama, who once opposed gay marriage, but said his position had evolved, announced his unequivocal support in an historic announcement that thrust the divisive social issue into a more prominent role in this year’s US presidential campaign.
The announcement could energize the Democratic Party’s younger voters and others. However, it also could serve as a rallying point for the Republican Party’s social and religious conservatives.
“I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman,” Republican challenger Mitt Romney said while campaigning in Oklahoma.
Gay rights advocates cheered Obama’s declaration, which they had long urged him to make.
Obama revealed his decision after a series of events that made clear the political ground was shifting. He once opposed gay marriage, but more recently had said his views were “evolving.”
In an interview with ABC in which he blended the personal and the presidential, Obama said: “It wouldn’t dawn” on his daughters, Sasha and Malia, that some of their friends’ parents would be treated differently than others.
He said he also thought of aides “who are in incredibly committed monogamous same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together.”
Obama added that he thought about: “Those soldiers or airmen or Marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf, and yet feel constrained even though now that ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is gone, because they’re not able to commit themselves in a marriage.”
The president said he was taking a personal position. Aides said the shift would have no impact on current policies and Obama continued to believe that marriage is an issue best decided by states.
He spoke on the heels of a pair of events that underscored the sensitivity of an issue that has long divided the nation.
US Vice President Joe Biden said in an interview on Sunday that he is completely comfortable with gays marrying, a pronouncement that instantly raised the profile of the issue. White House aides insisted that the vice president had not said anything particularly newsworthy, but gay rights groups cited Biden’s comments in urging the president to announce his support.
On Tuesday, voters in North Carolina approved an amendment to the state constitution affirming that marriage may only be a union of a man and a woman.
Additionally, several of the president’s biggest financial backers are gay and some have prodded him publicly to declare his support for same-sex marriage.
Senior administration officials said Obama came to the conclusion that gay couples should have the right to legally marry earlier this year and had planned to make his views known publicly before the Democratic National Convention in early September.
As recently as eight years ago, conservatives in several states maneuvered successfully to place questions relating to gay marriage on the election day ballot as a way of boosting turnout for former US president George W. Bush’s re-election.
Nationwide polling suggests increased acceptance of gay marriage. In a national survey released earlier this month, Gallup reported 50 percent of those polled said it should be legal and 48 percent opposed.