President Barack Obama has become the first U.S. president to publicly support “gay marriage,” breaking silence on the issue and pointing to his Christian faith as a motivation for his position.
“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 a May 9 interview with ABC News' Robin Roberts.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney responded by reaffirming his own commitment to defending marriage. According to the Associated Press, Romney said on May 9 that he believes marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman and has held this view “since running for office.”
In supporting a redefinition of marriage, Obama said on Wednesday that his wife, Michelle, “feels the same way that I do” and cited the couple's religious beliefs, saying, “we are both practicing Christians.”
The president acknowledged that “obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others.”
However, he said, “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 also pointed to discussions with gay individuals in “incredibly committed monogamous relationships” as a factor influencing his decision to support a redefinition of marriage.
The announcement marked a key shift in the president’s public stance on the controversial issue.
While Obama has said that he opposes efforts to discriminate against gay individuals, he had previously stopped short of endorsing “gay marriage,” instead saying in 2010 that his views on the subject were “evolving.”
However, his other actions as president had been praised by gay advocacy groups.
In Feb. 2011, his administration announced that it would no longer uphold the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman for federal purposes.
Obama also signed a law repealing the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the military.
The president’s stance on the issue became a heated topic of discussion when U.S. Vice President Joe Biden suggested that he is “absolutely comfortable” with the idea of “gay marriage” in an interview with NBC's David Gregory, which aired on May 6.
Asked about the comments on May 7, White House press secretary Jay Carney insisted that Biden’s views were “completely consistent” with Obama’s, but would not say whether the president supported “gay marriage.”
Amid growing pressure to clarify his own position, Obama voiced his support for a redefinition of marriage on May 9. However, he said that his comments reflect his personal position and he supports the idea of states deciding the issue individually.
While the move drew support from gay advocacy groups, it could divide some of Obama’s key supporters, such as African-American voters, in the upcoming election.
According to a Pew Research Center survey in April 2012, only 39 percent of African Americans are in favor of redefining marriage to include gay couples.
In addition, Obama’s endorsement of “gay marriage” comes just one day after voters in North Carolina – a key swing state in 2008 – overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment banning a redefinition of marriage.
Marriage advocates believe the president is alienating himself from the views of Americans.
“Politically, we welcome this,” said Maggie Gallagher, co-founder of the National Organization for Marriage. “We think it’s a huge mistake.”
Pointing to the North Carolina vote in defense of marriage, she said that the president “is choosing the money over the voters.”
“We now have clear choice between Romney and Obama, and we look forward to demonstrating in November that it’s a bad idea for a national candidate to support gay marriage,” Gallagher said. “Marriage is a winning issue for the GOP.”