Why Obama endorsed gay marriage now

Comments on Sunday by Vice President Biden backing gay marriage and a North Carolina vote on Tuesday opposing it pushed President Obama to clarify his own stand on gay marriage well before the Democratic National Convention.

Pete Souza/AP
President Obama participates in an interview with Robin Roberts of ABC's 'Good Morning America' in the White House on May 9, in this photo released by the White House. In a historic announcement, Obama declared his unequivocal support for gay marriage.

President Obama says he had already decided to endorse gay marriage sometime before the Democratic National Convention in September, but Vice President Joe Biden forced the issue last Sunday when he spoke out in favor of marriage equality.

“He probably got out a little over his skis, but out of generosity of spirit,” Mr. Obama said in an interview that aired Thursday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “Would I have preferred to have done this in my own way on my own terms without, I think, there being a lot of notice to everybody? Of course. But all’s well that ends well.”

Obama’s declaration of support for gay marriage on Wednesday, when the ABC interview took place, capped a series of events that appeared to corner the president on a hot-button social issue. On Sunday, Mr. Biden stated, in response to a question, that he was “absolutely comfortable” with gay marriage – though making clear that he was speaking for himself and not the president. On Monday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who is close to Obama, also said for the first time publicly that he supports gay marriage.

Then on Tuesday, voters in North Carolina overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure amending the state constitution to ban gay marriage and civil unions, demonstrating the schism in the country that is evident in opinion polls.

Before Wednesday, gay rights activists were certain the president had already "evolved" into support for same-sex marriage, and was waiting for the right moment to publicly announce his change of heart. They greeted Wednesday’s news with jubilation, but some were disappointed that Obama tempered his support by saying that it’s still up to states to work out their laws on the issue. Some gay rights activists are also urging Democrats to change the venue of their national convention, set to convene in Charlotte, N.C., Sept. 3-6.

The president also offered respect for religious opposition to gay marriage, in a careful bid, it seemed, not to alienate swing voters who may be less than comfortable will his endorsement.

Obama said that opponents of gay marriage “are not coming at it from a mean-spirited perspective.”

"They're coming at it because they care about families," he said. "And they have a different understanding, in terms of, you know, what the word 'marriage' should mean. And a bunch of them are friends of mine, you know, pastors and ... people who I deeply respect."

Obama also said that New York’s recent decision to legalize gay marriage, via the state legislature, affected his own evolution on the matter.

"I asked myself right after that New York vote took place, if I had been a state senator, which I was for a time, how would I have voted?" Obama said. "And I had to admit to myself, 'You know what? I think that I would have voted yes.' “

The president continued: "It would have been hard for me, knowing all the friends and family that are gays or lesbians, that for me to say to them, you know, 'I voted to oppose you having the same kind of rights and responsibilities that I have. ’”

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