WASHINGTON, D.C. (CBS News / AP) – President Barack Obama declared his support Wednesday for same-sex marriage, becoming the first president to take that position and ending months of equivocation on the politically explosive subject.
Mr. Obama’s announcement was cheered by gay rights groups in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond who have long urged him to support gay marriage; a KPIX-TV CBS 5 poll conducted immediately after the announcement found 61% of Bay Area adults agreed with his stand.
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Mr. Obama said he felt it had become important for him to affirm that he thinks same-sex couples should be able to get married. He said he came to that conclusion over the course of several years of talking to family and friends.
“I have hesitated on gay marriage in part because I thought that civil unions would be sufficient,” Mr. Obama said in an interview with ABC News at the White House. He added that, “I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people the word `marriage’ was something that invokes very powerful traditions, religious beliefs and so forth.”
Now, he said, “it is important for me personally to go ahead and affirm that same-sex couples should be able to get married.”
The president’s decision to address the issue came three days after Vice President Joe Biden said he was “absolutely comfortable” with two men or two women getting married.
Mr. Obama spoke about his support for gay marriage in deeply personal terms in Wednesday’s interview, saying his young daughters, Malia and Sasha, have friends whose parents are same-sex couples.
“Malia and Sasha, it wouldn’t dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated different,” Mr. Obama said. “It doesn’t make sense to them and frankly, that’s the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective.”
Mr. Obama said his wife Michelle Obama was also involved in his decision and joined him in supporting gay marriage.
“In the end the values that I care most deeply about and she cares most deeply about is how we treat other people,” he said.
Acknowledging that his support for same-sex marriage may rankle religious conservatives, Obama said he thinks about his faith in part through the prism of the Golden Rule — treating others the way you would want to be treated.
“That’s what we try to impart to our kids and that’s what motivates me as president and I figure the most consistent I can be in being true to those precepts, the better I’ll be as a as a dad and a husband and hopefully the better I’ll be as president,” Obama said.
Reaction to the move – which injects a polarizing issue into the 2012 race for the White House – came in fast, with presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney saying he still unequivocally opposes same-sex marriage.
“I do not favor marriage between people of the same gender, and I do not favor civil unions if they are identical to marriage other than by name. My view is the domestic partnership benefits, hospital visitation rights, and the like are appropriate but that the others are not,” the former Massachusetts governor said.
In California, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom – who as mayor of San Francisco in 2004 pushed the issue to the national forefront when he initiated the marriage of thousands of same-sex couples at City Hall – predicted there would be little political fallout for Mr. Obama.
“The President’s campaign platform is framed around moving forward with the rest of the country, and now he’s leading. Other people will be arguing for the status quo, they’ll be arguing for yesterday, when we’re all talking about tomorrow in this election,” he told CBS 5. “At the end of the day, when you stand on courage of conviction, on principle, you send a message about who you are, your character, that transcends the issue.”
Numerous other California politicians quickly sent out statements applauding the President’s support of same-sex marriage.
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco noted that “with President Obama’s support, we look forward to the day when all American families are treated equally in the eyes of the law.”
U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer released a statement saying, “This is a historic day and another step in our country’s long march toward equal rights and justice for all. The President’s statement is a milestone and so important for the millions of American families who deserve full equality. None of us can rest until marriage equality is a reality for all Americans.”
State Senator Mark Leno, who authored California’s first bills that would have legalized gay marriage, echoed Sen. Boxer calling the announcement “historic”. Leno also said, “I applaud President Obama for standing up for freedom, justice and equality for all people in a time when other elected officials are reluctant to do so. Denying committed same-sex couples the choice to marry has no benefit to our society and only divides communities and hurts loving couples and their families.”
State Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said he’s never been more proud of the President. He went on to say, “I can only hope the President’s personal position will swell the tide of public opinion to end prejudice against the LGBT community.”
Public opinion on gay marriage has shifted in recent years, with a national Gallup poll this week finding support for legal gay marriage at 50 percent. The CBS 5 poll, conducted by SurveyUSA on Wednesday, found Bay Area support at over 60% — and a Field Poll of Californians back in February showed 59% of Golden State voters support legalization.
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