By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 23, 2010; 2:44 PM
Twice this week, President Obama suggested that he might become the first sitting U.S. president to support gay marriage. He said his views on whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry are "evolving" and added that, although he is a longtime supporter of civil unions, "I recognize that from their perspective, it is not enough."
But none of this means that the White House is about to launch a national legalize-gay-marriage campaign.
First of all, marriage laws are largely written by individual states (Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont allow gay marriage, as does the District).
Second, any attempt by the administration to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act - which Obama told the gay and lesbian magazine the Advocate he would like to do - would face strong opposition that will only intensify when Republicans take over the House of Representatives in January.
With the electorate overwhelmingly concerned with job growth and economic issues, it seems likely that Obama would focus on gay marriage only if he wins reelection in 2012. During a second term, he could ostensibly pursue the issue with far less political risk.
Throughout his 2008 campaign and the start of his administration, Obama insisted marriage should be limited to the union of a man and a woman; most major politicians in both parties share that stance.
But in the Advocate interview, published on the eve of the president signing the repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, Obama said his views are "evolving." He then made a similar remark at news conference Wednesday.
"I struggle with this," Obama said. "I have people who work for me, who are in powerful, strong, long-lasting gay or lesbian unions."
Obama told reporters that his "baseline" position on same-sex couples was to support "a strong civil union that provides them the protections and the legal rights that married couples have. And I think that's the right thing to do."
"But I recognize that from their perspective it is not enough," the president said. "And I think it is something we're going to continue to debate and, I personally am going to continue to wrestle with, going forward."
Most polls show a plurality of Americans still oppose gay marriage, although the number of proponents of the idea is growing. A Pew Research Center poll released in October showed 48 percent of people nationally opposed to gay marriage, while 42 percent were in favor, compared with 54 percent opposition and 37 percent support in 2009.
A majority of Democrats and people younger than 30, groups that largely already back Obama, support legalizing gay marriage. But voters over 65, a part of the electorate that swung heavily to the GOP in 2010, are mostly opposed to the idea.