Obama Endorses Same-Sex Marriage

President Obama has completed what he calls his "evolution" on gay marriage. After equivocating on the issue for more than a year, he now says same-sex marriage should be legal. Obama's endorsement of gay marriage makes it a prominent issue in the November election.

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President Obama has completed what he calls his evolution on gay marriage. He says it should be legal. And he says that after equivocating on the issue for more than a year. He's the first sitting president ever to endorse gay marriage.

And this move also makes gay marriage a more prominent issue in the presidential campaign, as NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: In the White House Cabinet Room, President Obama sat down with ABC's Robin Roberts and described his evolution on this issue.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I've always been adamant that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly and equal.

SHAPIRO: The president walked through the actions his administration has taken to advance gay rights, repealing "don't ask, don't tell," opposing the Defense of Marriage Act.

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OBAMA: And I had hesitated on gay marriage, in part, because I thought civil unions would be sufficient, that that was something that would give people hospital visitation rights and other elements that we take for granted.

SHAPIRO: He says, over the years, he talked with friends, neighbors and members of his staff who are gay and in committed relationships. He discussed it with his wife and with his daughters, who hang out with the kids of same-sex parents.

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OBAMA: 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.

SHAPIRO: White House aides say the president has held this view for a while. He always planned to talk about it before the election, they say, but Vice President Biden bumped up the timeline by expressing strong support for same-sex marriage on Sunday morning.

Michael Dimock of the Pew Research Center says this shift is in line with broader changes of opinion on the issue.

MICHAEL DIMOCK: The trajectory of all these trend lines are very consistent with now, for the first time in recent years, at least as many supporting, if not more supporting gay marriage than opposing it.

SHAPIRO: Some gay rights advocates compared this moment in history to the Stonewall riots that helped launch the gay rights movement. Joe Solmonese is president of the Human Rights Campaign.

JOE SOLMONESE: It is just overwhelming, you know, given his influence, given his leadership and given the historic nature, that this is the first president in our history to take such a bold move.

SHAPIRO: Blogger Andrew Sullivan of The Daily Beast told ALL THINGS CONSIDERED last night that he had always pooh-poohed the president's role in advancing gay marriage.

ANDREW SULLIVAN: And then I watched the interview, and the tears flooded. There is something about hearing your president affirm your humanity, that you don't know what affect it has until you hear it.

SHAPIRO: On the other side of the country, Republican Mitt Romney was campaigning in Colorado. He told the local TV interviewer that his opposition to same-sex marriage remains unchanged.

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MITT ROMNEY: I do not favor marriage between people of the same gender, and I don't favor civil unions if they're identical to marriage other than by name. My view is that domestic partnership benefits, hospital visitation rights and the like are appropriate, but that the others are not.

SHAPIRO: Many political scientists expressed doubt that this will tip the election, since people care more deeply about the economy than about social issues right now. But gay marriage opponent Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council disagrees. He points out that North Carolina just voted overwhelmingly to ban gay marriage.

TONY PERKINS: What the president has done is handed Mitt Romney the key to social conservative support in this election.

SHAPIRO: But are those people who were going to vote for President Obama ever?

PERKINS: I think so. When you look at, for instance, in North Carolina and the vote results, in some of the majority black precincts, 60 percent or more voted for the Marriage Amendment.

SHAPIRO: Activists on both sides of the debate say they were not especially surprised at the president's announcement. Mr. Obama has acted like someone who supports gay marriage for a while. Now his words align with those actions.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

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