President Barack Obama came out in support of gay marriage Wednesday afternoon, ending a frenzy of speculation about his long “evolving” position and taking a major risk in his close re-election fight with presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney.
“I had hesitated on gay marriage in part because I thought civil unions would be sufficient,” Obama told ABC’s Robin Roberts. “I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people, the word ‘marriage’ evokes very powerful traditions, religious beliefs and so forth.”
But Obama said he had talked with friends and family over several years and he ultimately changed his view.
“I 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,” he said.
Obama’s lack of a clear position on the issue had become untenable after members of his administration, including Vice President Joseph Biden and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, declared support for gay marriage earlier this week. Initially, the Obama re-election campaign tried to downplay Biden’s comments, and White House spokesman Jay Carney spent much of this week deflecting questions on the issue.
Obama’s dodge made him look weak, but coming out for such a divisive issue also is a big political risk because voters across the country, including in North Carolina on Tuesday, have voted to ban gay marriage.
Romney repeated his opposition to gay marriage in an appearance later Wednesday afternoon.
He said states can make “decisions with regards to domestic partnership benefits, such as hospital visitation rights. Benefits and so forth of various kinds can be determined state by state. But my view is that marriage itself is a relationship between a man and a woman, and that’s my own preference.”
But Romney tempered his remarks, hinting at a likely GOP message that Obama has “flip-flopped” on the issue.
“I know other people have differing views. This is a very tender and sensitive topic, as are many social issues, but I have the same view that I’ve had since running for office,” Romney said.
Besides the political peril of embracing same-sex marriage, Obama could find himself in trouble for wading into a debate on social issues when voters are more concerned about the economy.
Both parties have drawn the ire of voters when they have appeared to get distracted by side issues that don’t address economic problems.
Even as Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) reaffirmed his opposition to gay marriage on Fox Business on Wednesday, he took the time to note that House Republicans would be working to improve the country’s economic outlook.
“The American people are still asking the question, ‘Where are the jobs?’ and our focus is going to continue to be on the economy like it has been for the last year and a half,” Boehner said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.