President Barack Obama said he fully supports marriage equality in an ABC News interview Wednesday, following mounting pressure to clarify his position after recent remarks made by White House officials, including Vice President Joe Biden, suggested the administration had shifted its support for same-sex marriage. His new stance also marks the completion of the president’s “evolving” views on the issue since 2008.
The announcement makes Obama the first sitting president in U.S. history to publicly endorse same-sex marriage.
“At a certain point I 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 the interview.
Local LGBT rights groups, legislators and activists quickly responded to the news, commending Obama.
“This is obviously a historic announcement, that a sitting president announces that he supports same gender marriage,” said Anthony Martinez, the executive director at Illinois LGBT rights advocacy group The Civil Rights Agenda. “This is an enormous step forward for LGBT citizens. We live in a country where every day, LGBT people have to wake up and know that they’re second-class citizens. Today, the president has taken a firm stand and said that all people — no matter who they love — should be able to access the same rights and responsibilities of the civil institution of marriage.”
Martinez added that he is proud to be an Illinoisan and compared Obama to President Lincoln.
“He understands that his legacy rests on the basic issues of civil rights. Like President Lincoln, President Obama knows this is what makes our country great,” he said.
Illinois Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) said he congratulates the president for coming out with his support for equality.
“I think it is a great day for America right now,” said Harris, who earlier this year introduced a marriage equality bill in the state legislature. “The president has spoken the words in the hearts of the majority of Americans who value full equality and respect for families. As people learn the true facts, as they talk to their neighbors, to their coworkers and their fellow parishioners … Their feelings are the same as the president’s. Times change, minds change and I congratulate President Obama for his courage in speaking for those majority of Americans on this issue.”
Activists say they are appreciative of the president’s willingness to reassess his views on same-sex marriage, including Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov, who adds that despite the president’s announcement, the struggle for actual equality will continue.
“We are under no illusion that the President’s embrace today of marriage equality will suddenly change the dynamics of the struggle for equality, as epitomized by Tuesday’s vote for a constitutional amendment in North Carolina banning same-sex marriages and civil unions,” Cherkasov said in a statement. “However, the President speaks to significant constituencies who, like him, support fairness and are looking for the best way to achieve it. It should also make crystal clear to voters in the November election which presidential candidate is on the right side of history by standing for equality for LGBT Americans.”
“The President’s support for marriage equality will change the conversation on the topic,” Cherkasov told Chicago Phoenix. “He has now affirmed that loving, committed gay and lesbian couples and their families deserve the same recognition as heterosexual couples. Nothing less — no lesser institution, no second class citizenship — will do.”
Obama’s pledged support comes just hours after LGBT rights advocates across the country were dealt significant setbacks Tuesday with the success of Amendment 1, a North Carolina ballot measure, which with 61 percent of the vote banned same-sex marriage in the state, as well as the failure of a civil unions bill in Colorado.
Many lesbian and gay families across the country suffered a mental blow from what happened in North Carolina, said Lambda Legal’s national Marriage Project Director, Camilla Taylor.
“Our opponents have a short time to celebrate. History will tell that it was a temporary time,” she said, adding that Illinois, Obama’s home state has to “get on board.”
But not all LGBT groups are satisfied with the announcement. The Log Cabin Republicans, a gay and lesbian GOP group, called it “cold comfort” to Americans, given the timing.
“That the president has chosen today, when LGBT Americans are mourning the passage of Amendment One, to finally speak up for marriage equality is offensive and callous,” said R. Clarke Cooper, Log Cabin Republicans executive director in an online statement. “Log Cabin Republicans appreciate that President Obama has finally come in line with leaders like Vice President Dick Cheney on this issue, but LGBT Americans are right to be angry that this calculated announcement comes too late to be of any use to the people of North Carolina, or any of the other states that have addressed this issue on his watch.”
Obama faced increasing pressure from the press and LGBT rights groups earlier this week when two White House officials, including Biden, announced their own support for gay marriage rights.
On Monday, Arne Duncan, the U.S. secretary of education and the former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, said he supports same-sex marriage during an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”.
Duncan simply said, “Yes, I do,” when asked, “Do you believe same-sex men and women should be able to get legally married in the United States?” during the interview.
Duncan’s endorsement came on the heels of Biden’s comments on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, where he said he was “absolutely comfortable” with gay marriage and that married same-sex couples should have the same rights as married heterosexual couples.
“Look, I just think that the good news is that as more and more Americans come to understand what this is all about, it’s a simple proposition: Who do you love? Who do you love? And will you be loyal to the person you love?” Biden said. “And that’s what people are finding out, is what all marriages at their root are about, whether they’re marriages of lesbians or gay men or heterosexuals.”
During a conference call with reporters Monday, Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod said in a response to a question by Reuters’ Jeff Mason that Biden’s views on gay marriage are consistent with with Obama’s even though, at the times, the president had not explicitly endorsed it, according to a report by the Washington Blade.
“I think that they were entirely consistent with the president’s position, which is that couples who are married — whether gay or heterosexual couples — are entitled to the very same rights and very same liberties,” Axelrod said in response to the question. “That’s why the president and the administration has stood down on the DOMA court case and believe that the law is unconstitutional, and when people are married, we ought to recognize those marriages and import the rights to which they’re entitled.”
Roughly half of all Americans support marriage equality with 50 percent in favor and 48 percent opposed, according to a newly-released Gallup poll.