For Obama personally, the disclosure completed a long conversion process that advisers said ended earlier this year after soul-searching and talks with his family.
“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 said in an interview with Robin Roberts of ABC News.
Obama had hinted at that sentiment for years as he repeatedly said his views on gay marriage were “evolving,” but his statement still came as a dramatic election-year revelation that promised to energize advocates on both sides. Gay rights activists and many Democrats embraced the news, but some religious leaders, including one of Obama’s spiritual advisers, said they were distraught.
The potential dangers for Obama could be seen just one day before his announcement, when voters in North Carolina, a swing state critical to his reelection, voted overwhelmingly for a state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex unions. Obama hinted at the rapidly shifting political fault lines on Wednesday, saying he had weighed the teachings of his Christian faith against a growing pro-marriage consensus among younger Americans — a key target group for his reelection campaign.
“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,” Obama said in the interview, excerpts of which were aired during a rare midday newscast.
“They are much more comfortable with it,” Obama continued. “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.”
Advocates put the announcement in historic terms, calling it an unprecedented moment of validation from the country’s most important political figure. Many said that Obama’s self-described evolution matched the thought process for non-gay Americans and that his comments could help push others to support marriage rights.
“President Obama made history by boldly stating that gay and lesbian Americans should be fully and equally part of the fabric of American society and that our families deserve nothing less than the equal respect and recognition that comes through marriage,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group close to the White House. The group’s incoming president, Chad Griffin, a major Obama fundraiser who has repeatedly pressed the president in personal conversations to support gay marriage, added that Obama’s words “will be celebrated by generations to come.”