WASHINGTON—On the heels of a landslide victory for a traditional marriage amendment in North Carolina, President Obama announced in a Wednesday interview with ABC News that he now personally supports same-sex marriage.
The announcement was practically forced upon the president a few days after Vice President Joe Biden said that he supported gay marriage. Biden's comments made the question of the president's position on the issue perennial in White House press briefings.
"I'd hesitated on gay marriage in part because I thought civil unions would be sufficient," Obama said Wednesday. "And 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." Obama cited his and his wife Michelle's Christian faith as his reason for personally supporting same-sex marriage.
"In the end the values that I care most deeply about and she cares most deeply about is how we treat other people," he said. "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—treat others the way you would want to be treated. And 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."
Back in 2004 as a Senate candidate, Obama cited his faith as his reason for opposing same-sex marriage: "I'm a Christian, and so although I try not to have my religious beliefs dominate or determine my political views on this issue, I do believe that tradition and my religious beliefs say that marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman." He supported same-sex civil unions at the time.
Obama's announcement will have little to no effect on federal policy, but could have much effect on election-year politics. The president on Wednesday said he still thinks the issue should be worked out at the state level. And he has already done much for gay activists at the federal level: Last year he instructed the Justice Department not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act—a federal law—in court. And when Democrats were in their final days of controlling both chambers of Congress in 2010, they repealed "Don't Ask Don't Tell," the military policy prohibiting publicly homosexual service people.
The president's announcement hardly ruffled a feather among traditional marriage supporters.
"The charade is finally up," said Gary Bauer, president of American Values, in a statement. "We've always known that Barack Obama supports same-sex marriage. With every action he's taken, from court appointments to his rhetoric, he's been preparing the way to undermine traditional marriage. Obama's finally made that support explicit."
National Organization of Marriage co-founder Maggie Gallagher embraced Obama's announcement: "Politically, we welcome this. We think it's a huge mistake."
Faith and Freedom's Ralph Reed echoed Gallagher: "This is an unanticipated gift to the Romney campaign." Reed said the announcement would drive religious voters to the polls in November.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney does not support the legalization of same-sex marriage or civil unions if they are the same as marriage, but he believes gay couples should be allowed hospital visitation rights and domestic partner benefits. Romney reaffirmed his views on marriage after the president's announcement, noting that his view on marriage as being between a man and a woman has never changed.
Though public opinion has been shifting more favorably toward approval of same-sex marriage, the passage of the North Carolina constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman showed Obama's position remains a minority view in at least one swing state. A strong majority of North Carolina counties with large African-American populations supported the traditional marriage amendment, too. Thirty other states have passed similar constitutional amendments on marriage. Several other states will vote on the matter this year.