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Why Barack Obama Supports Gay Marriage

President's 2012 Announcement Was Result of Constantly Evolving Feelings


U.S. President Barack Obama
Pool/Getty Images News/Getty Images

President Barack Obama announced his support for gay marriage in May 2012 following what he described as two years of "constantly evolving" inner debate over the contentious issue. He indicated his support for gay marriage during a televised interview, becoming the first president in U.S. history to take such a position.

"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," Obama said during the interview, with ABC News.

Because of his open support of same-sex marriage, Obama was symbolically labeled America's first gay president.

He added, though, that he believed the ultimate decision rested with states. That qualifying statement tempered his announcement, making his support more symbolic than practical.

At the time 44 states banned gay marriage. The day before Obama's announcement North Carolina voters approved a constitutional ban on gay marriage.

Reversal on Gay Marriage

Obama's statement in support of gay marriage marked a dramatic personal shift on the issue. He had previously opposed gay marriage but said he would support civil unions between gay and lesbian couples.

"I'm a Christian. And so, although I try not to have my religious beliefs dominate or determine my political views on this issue, I do believe that tradition, and my religious beliefs say that marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman," Obama said in 2004, when he was a candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Obama said in 2012 that he did not support gay marriage until that point because he understood the strong religious implications. "I had hesitated on gay marriage in part because I thought that civil unions would be sufficient," he said. "I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people, the word marriage was something that invokes very powerful traditions and religious beliefs.

"But I have to tell you that over the course of several years 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, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don't Ask Don't Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, 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.

Evolution on Gay Marriage

Obama's clear support for gay marriage in May 2012 marked his clearest stance on the issue since running for and winning the presidency. At a news conference in December 2010, Obama said his feelings on gay marriage were "constantly evolving."

"I struggle with this. I have friends, I have people who work for me, who are in powerful, strong, long-lasting gay or lesbian unions. And they are extraordinary people, and this is something that means a lot to them and they care deeply about," Obama said in 2010.

"At this point, what I've said is, is that my baseline is a strong civil union that provides them the protections and the legal rights that married couples have. And I think — and I think that's the right thing to do. But I recognize that from their perspective it is not enough, and I think is something that we're going to continue to debate and I personally am going to continue to wrestle with going forward."

Political Implications

Obama's decision to publicly support gay marriage was cheered by gay-rights advocates and served to shore up support among his more liberal Democratic base. His announcement following similar comments earlier that month from both Vice President Joe Biden and Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Obama's Republican challenger in Election 2012, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, seized on Obama's shifting position on gay marriage and sought to capitalize on his own steadfast opposition to it. "I have the same view on marriage that I had when I was governor. I believe marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman," Romney said.

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