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Obama supports gay marriage: Historic switch carries risks (+video)

Obama supports gay marriage in an interview with ABC News, ending a period in which he said his views were 'evolving.' The move was instantly hailed and denounced by the opposing sides on the issue.

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“His presidency has shown that our nation can move beyond its shameful history of discrimination and injustice,” he said. “In him, millions of young Americans have seen that their futures will not be limited by what makes them different.”

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Obama’s statement has more rhetorical and political significance than any real change that can be effected on the ground. Marriage laws are determined at the state level, and in recent years, the nation has become a patchwork. Six states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage. This fall, the issue will be on the ballot in as many as four states, including Maryland, whose legislature recently approved gay marriage. Including North Carolina, 30 states have banned gay marriage in their constitutions.

For Obama, the long-awaited statement of support could carry political risks. A majority of African Americans oppose gay marriage, and so he appears to be gambling that he will not jeopardize his support among this crucial segment of his base. Obama currently enjoys more than 90 percent support among black voters.

On the plus side for Obama, he can now stop what many supporters felt was his charade of “evolution.” Some had chided him for promising as a candidate in 2008 that he would always be honest with the voters, while on this issue he seemed to be hedging to a degree that was not credible.

In the ABC interview, Obama said he was influenced not only by gay staff members, and gay military men and women who are now legally allowed to serve openly, but also by conversations with his wife and daughters.

Positive reactions from Democrats flooded in as soon as the news broke.

“The president's unequivocal support today in favor of all committed couples to marry the person they love is a watershed moment in American history that will provide the leadership needed to finally repeal DOMA and win the unfinished fight for equality for all Americans,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) of New York said in a statement.

DOMA stands for the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law passed under the Clinton administration that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. In February 2011, the Obama administration announced it would no longer defend the constitutionality of DOMA in court.

Social conservatives also weighed in quickly over Obama’s statement.

“The charade is finally up,” said religious conservative leader Gary Bauer in a statement. “We’ve always known that Barack Obama supports same-sex marriage. With every action he’s taken, from court appointments to his rhetoric, he’s been preparing the way to undermine traditional marriage. Obama’s finally made that support explicit.”

IN PICTURES: Same-sex marriage

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