President Obama, in a Wednesday interview on ABC's "Good Morning America," declared his support for same-sex marriage. His statement, coming six months before the general election, raises the political stakes in an issue voters are roughly evenly divided.
Even though the Obama administration's policy has been in favor of gay rights, implementing gay-friendly policies such as stopping the enforcement of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy on homosexuals serving in the military and declaring it believes that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional, Obama had equivocated on the politically sensitive issue of gay marriage.
LA Times reports that Obama had said in the past that his position on gay marriage was "evolving." But recently, he has been under considerable pressure to declare his stand before the November election. The pressure on him heightened after Vice President Joe Biden, on Sunday, called on him to speak out or risk losing grounds.
Obama, who during the 2008 elections opposed gay marriage, said in the interview with ABC's Robin Roberts: "I had hesitated on gay marriage, in part, because I thought civil unions would be sufficient. I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people, the word marriage is something that provokes very powerful traditions and religious beliefs."
The Huffington Post reports that Obama, speaking in the interview hastily arranged following Biden's remarks, said: "I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors 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, even now that Don't Ask Don't Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, 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."
According to Obama, he arrived at his final decision after consultation with gay friends, his staff members and his family who he said share his support for gay marriage. He said that his position is anchored in his Christian faith. The New York Times reports he said: “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. And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids, and that’s what motivates me as president.”
CNN reports he referred to his daughters Malia and Sasha, who he said have friends whose parents are same-sex couples. The Huffington Post reports he said: "You know, Malia and Sasha, they 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. It doesn’t make sense to them and frankly, that’s the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective."
The Huffington Post reports Obama said he believes that the issue is "generational." He said: “It’s interesting, some of this is also generational. 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, believe in equality. They are much more comfortable with it."
Many observers believe that Obama's withholding of support for gay marriage as his "position evolved" was part of a strategy to avoid alienating a section of voters. But with support for gay marriage on the increase among the young and the middle class, and a small majority of voters favoring gay marriage, his reluctance to openly declare his support for gay marriage began to be questioned.
Some analysts insist that voters who are most strongly opposed to gay marriage are also the most unlikely to vote for him and that, therefore, he does not stand to lose much by coming out openly in support of gay marriage. But others question this view. Los Angeles Times reports that some analysts point to the fact that African American and Latino voters, who contribute significantly to Obama's support base, are more likely to express opposition to gay marriage.
CNN reports that the impact Obama's endorsement would have on voting is not yet clear. Analysts, however, agree that the endorsement has raised the stakes for the issue in the next general election. The president of the Family Research Council said on CNN's "The Situation Room" that "The president, I think, has handed to Mitt Romney the one missing piece in his campaign. That is the intensity and motivation that Mitt Romney needs among social conservatives to win this election."
But another analyst argued that it "cuts both ways," saying it will also energize liberals who strongly support gay marriage. CNN reports John Green of the University of Akron, said: "It cuts both ways -- it activates both Democratic and Republican base voters."
According to CNN, a Gallup Poll released Tuesday indicated 50 percent of Americans believe same-sex marriage should be legal, but 48 percent say it should not be legal.
Los Angeles Times also notes that Obama's position may hurt him in the South where a recent Pew Research Center poll found that 1 in 3 swing voters strongly oppose gay marriage. North Carolina, for instance, only recently approved a ban on same-sex marriage and analysts say Obama is unlikely to win the state in the next general election. Obama, according to CNN, expressed his disappointment over Tuesday's vote on same-sex marriage in North Carolina, saying it was discriminatory against gays and Lesbians.
According to Los Angeles Times, more crucial to his chances will be the reaction of voters in Virginia where recent polls show he has a slight lead over Mitt Romney.
While White House aides, according to Los Angeles Times, say predicting the impact of Obama's endorsement is almost impossible, many believe it will energize pro-gay voters while turning off white Protestants in the Rust Belt and Catholic Latinos.
Republican nominee presumptive Mitt Romney, reacted to Obama's endorsement of gay marriage on Wednesday. He said to reporters in Oklahoma: "My view is that marriage itself is a relationship between a man and a woman, and that's my own preference. I know other people have differing views. This is a very tender and sensitive topic, as are many social issues."
CNN reports Romney said: "I do not favor civil unions if they are identical to marriage other than by name. My view is the domestic partnership benefits, hospital visitation rights, and the like are appropriate, but that the others are not."
Los Angeles Times reports that Michelle Obama was a strong influence in Obama's decision to openly endorse same-sex marriage. She went out of her way to invite gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender couples to an event she sponsored for military families.