President Barack Obama has announced that he supports same-sex marriages, following several months of increased gay pressure on Obama in the run-up to the 2012 election.
His statement is a political advance for gay advocates, but it does not commit Obama to seek a federal override of state laws that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
More than 30 states have similar laws. North Carolina voters approved one such measure, an amendment to the state constitution, Tuesday night.
Since Obama has repeatedly demonstrated his opposition to enforcement of a federal law that defines marriage in the same terms, his new position will have little immediate impact on government policy.
“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 told ABC News on Wednesday.
His changed position, he said, came after he concluded that civil unions — which are legally akin to marriages — were insufficient.
The announcement should boost support in November from gays and from progressives, but it also threatens his support in his loyal base of African-Americans and Latinos. The decision will also undermine his position among white swing voters, especially Catholics, in must-win Midwestern states. (RELATED: Full coverage of the Obama presidency)
But Obama’s sudden evolution leftward will also likely increase his donations from wealthy gays, whose role in his re-election campaign has increased as Wall Street donors have shied away from supporting him.
On May 14, the president is scheduled to attend a fundraiser event in New York that is expected to included many gays. It will be hosted by Ricky Martin, a gay singer.
The announcement came during an afternoon ABC interview that was quickly scheduled by White House officials. The request for the interview followed three days of media questions after Vice President Joe Biden effectively endorsed a change in marriage rules.
Gay advocates have dismissed civil unions as second-class government endorsement, and have called for “marriage equality” that would help win the same social approval for gay and lesbian relationships that government-backed marriage now extends to male-female bonds.
But advocates of traditional marriage say the inclusion of same-sex — and usually childless — couples in marriage would redefine the word, which they say is among society’s foundations.
Marriage is an institution that has evolved over thousands of years to help parents rear their children, say conservative groups such as the National Organization for Marriage. States that have established same-sex marriage have converted it into a low-prestige government endorsement of couples’ intimate relationships, they add, boosting the state’s power and hindering conservatives’ efforts to promote child-rearing in intact families.
Although many advocates of marriage for same-sex couples say children and monogamy are optional choices within marriage, Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage emphasized those components.
“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. … 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.
Obama also argued that same-sex marriage is compatible with his view of Christianity.
“We are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others,” he said. “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.”
Obama will be give a May 14 speech at Barnard College, where he will share a stage with Evan Wolfson, the head of Freedom To Marry. Wolfson is the leading advocate in the 15-year campaign to redefine marriage away from an institution to aid heterosexual child-rearing, and towards a government validation of intimate relationships between any two people.