Associate editor, CQ Researcher
The National Organization for Marriage, which opposes recognition for same-sex couples, had no immediate reaction on its website to Obama’s change of position. The anti-gay Family Research Council called Obama’s statement “disappointing but not surprising” in the light of the administration’s positions on other gay rights issues. Tony Perkins, the group’s president, said Obama’s position “ensures that marriage will again be a major issue in the presidential election.”
In favoring legalization of same-sex marriages, Obama returns to the position he took on an issue questionnaire as a candidate for the Illinois state senate in 1996. As a U.S. senator and candidate for president in 2008, however, Obama shifted to opposing marriage for same-sex couples. In the White House, he has said -- and his spokesmen have repeated -- that his position was “evolving.”
News of Obama’s new position cheered gay rights advocates. Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, called the statement “a historic turning point for the freedom to marry movement.” The Human Rights Campaign, a leading LGBT advocacy group, said the statement amounted to “a message of hope to a generation of young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.”
Obama had already pleased gay rights groups by successfully urging Congress to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the military and by dropping in-court defense of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which bars federal benefits for same-sex couples. But his hesitancy on same-sex marriage was wearing thin among gay rights advocates and some leading Democratic figures.
In the interview, Obama said he had been influenced by conversations with “friends and family and neighbors” as well as “members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together.” He also said he thought 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.”
“You know when I go to college campuses, sometimes I talk to college Republicans who think that I have terrible policies on the economy, on foreign policy, but are very clear that when it comes to same-sex equality or, you know, believe in equality. They are much more comfortable with it,” he said.
Obama also noted that his two school-age daughters, Malia and Sasha, have friends whose parents are same-sex couples. “It wouldn’t dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated differently,” Obama said. “It doesn’t make sense to them and, frankly, that’s the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective.”
Obama’s position now puts him on the opposite side of the question as his presumptive Republican opponent, Mitt Romney. Romney has said he opposes recognizing same-sex marriages and favors a federal constitutional amendment to prohibit it. Currently, six states plus the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriages: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont. Thirteen other states provide some marriage-like rights to registered same-sex domestic partnerships.
Legislatures in two other states, Washington and Maryland, approved laws to recognize same-sex marriages earlier this year, but both measures are on hold pending possible referendums in November to block them from taking effect. Besides those potential ballot measures, Maine may also vote in November on a referendum to recognize gay marriages, while Minnesota has a scheduled vote on a constitutional amendment to prohibit recognizing same-sex couples.