In a stunning turn of events, President Barack Obama endorsed marriage equality this afternoon, in a taped interview with Robin Roberts, a co-host of ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
“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,” the president said.
Obama’s embrace of gay marriage came just two days after Vice President Joe Biden, in an appearance on “Meet the Press,” said, “I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men marrying women are entitled to the same exact rights. All the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And quite frankly I don’t see much of a distinction beyond that.”
On Sunday, the president’s reelection team immediately tried to knock down the view that Biden’s statement amounted to an endorsement of marriage for same-sex couples.
“What VP said –– that all married couples should have exactly the same legal rights –– is precisely POTUS's position,” tweeted David Axelrod, senior strategist for the reelection campaign, just moments after Biden’s comments were aired.
In a 45-minute daily press briefing on Monday, more than a dozen reporters pressed White House press secretary Jay Carney to explain how the vice president's comments did not break new ground and when the president would clarify his own thinking.
Last year, the administration announced it would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act against legal challenges and endorsed the Respect for Marriage Act, which would give legally married couples federal recognition.
Obama, however, had never before explicitly “evolved” –– in the language he repeatedly employed –– beyond his support in the 2008 campaign for civil unions. His comments to ABC were striking in the traditionalist approach he took to explaining his change of position –– talking about family, faith, and country as considerations in his thinking.
The president spoke about his personal interactions with gay and lesbian couples, including gay and lesbian servicemembers who can now serve in the military but cannot get legal recognition of their relationships.
"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,” he said, according to a transcript posted at ABC.com.
In his remarks, the president acknowledged the critical role demographics play in people’s attitudes toward marriage equality.
“It’s interesting, some of this is also generational,” he said. “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. 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.”
Obama, making a Christian-based argument for full equality, said that his wife, Michelle, helped him wrestle with the issue and that their faith played a critical role.
“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. “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 as a dad and a husband and hopefully the better I’ll be as president.”
Obama told Roberts that he still believes that states will determine marriage laws for their citizens. The legal challenge to Proposition 8 was the first effort since a Minnesota case in the early 1970s in which same-sex plaintiffs have sought to make the case that a state denying same-sex couples the right to marry is a violation of the US Constitution. Though the US government is not a party to that suit, the analysis that led the Department of Justice is based in the same equal protection principle as the Prop 8 litigants have made.
The president’s statement came less than a day after North Carolina voters, by a margin of 61-39 percent approved a far-reaching constitutional amendment barring any legal recognition for same-sex couples. Press reports indicate that in some heavily African-American districts, the measure won two-thirds or more of the vote.
The president carried North Carolina in 2008 –– but only by 14,000 votes. Pundits have speculated about whether an endorsement of same-sex marriage by the president could dampen turnout among black voters, his strongest base of support.
In an interview with the CBS affiliate in Denver today, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said, “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. That's the posture that I had as governor and I have that today."
According to ABC, however, the Romney campaign did not respond to a request for comment on what impact it believes Obama's new position will have on the race to the White House.