President Barack Obama voiced support for gay marriage in an interview with ABC News today, the third time he has changed his stance on the issue in his political career.
Obama's announcement is a political calculation for his reelection campaign, an attempt to draw a sharp line between himself and Mitt Romney, who opposes gay marriage. The president appears to be banking on the issue, which is heavily supported by younger Americans, to mobilize the youth vote, which has become disaffected during his term in office.
Obama had long been suspected of holding this view, but was thought to be afraid to make it public because of the political backlash.
The revelation comes the day after voters in the key battleground state of North Carolina approved a strict new ban on same-sex marriage. The measure, which prohibits any civil or domestic benefits for gay couples, passed by a landslide with 61 percent of the vote.
Change of heart: President Barack Obama said he once thought civil unions were sufficient rights for gay couples, but he no longer believes that
Historic: President Barack Obama is the first sitting US President to publicly support gay marriage. President George W Bush opposed it and President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage act into law
'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,' the president said.
Obama claims the change is a personal one only, and that he he still believes the issue of gay marriage should be left up to the states.
Currently, six states allow gay coupled to wed and 30 states have constitutional amendments explicitly banning it.
Obama said his daughters and their friends were a major reason he changed his mind about gay marriage.
'You know, Malia and Sasha, they have friends whose parents are same-sex couples. There have been times where Michelle and I have been sitting around the dinner table and we're talking about their friends and their parents and Malia and Sasha, it wouldn't dawn on them that somehow their friends' parents would be treated differently,' he said.
'It doesn't make sense to them and frankly, that's the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective.'
Obama had been under intense pressure to clarify his view toward gay marriage after Vice President Joe Biden publicly supported it on Sunday.
Pressure: The White House sought out Robin Roberts and ABC News for the interview after the president came under intense pressure to clarify his position on the issue
The White House sought out the interview with Robins Roberts, the 'Good Morning America' host, to explain himself. Parts of the interview will air Wednesday night on 'World News Tonight' and also Thursday morning on 'Good Morning America.'
Roberts, herself, has never married.
Biden's remarks on Sunday set the stage for Obama's announcement.
'I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual – men and women marrying – are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And quite frankly, I don't see much of a distinction beyond that,' Biden said on Meet the Press.
The president signaled that he was open to changing his opinion on gay marriage in 2010 when he said his feelings on the issues were 'evolving.'
'I struggle with this,' he famously said.
Since 2004, Obama has opposed gay marriage, saying his beliefs were based on his Christian faith.
As a presidential candidate he supported civil unions.
However, this isn't the first time Obama has changed in mind on the issue.
In 1996, as an Illinois State Senate candidate, he told a gay newspaper in Chicago that he was in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage and 'would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.'
The political implications of his position change are unclear.
Recent polls show 50 percent of Americans support gay marriage, but also reveal that the 45 percent who oppose it have strong convictions.
This could explain plain why North Carolina's Amendment 1, which changes the state constitution to prohibit gay marriage and partnership benefits to gay couples, won by such a wide margin among voters.
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