WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama came out today in support of full marriage equality, becoming the first sitting President to do so.
Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, today reaffirmed his opposition to marriage equality.
Obama, in a hastily scheduled TV interview with openly gay newswoman Robin Roberts, anchor of ABC's "Good Morning America," clarified his views on marriage rights for gays and lesbians.
The interview follows within days of a PR mess caused by the White House after Vice President Joe Biden and Education Secretary Arne Duncan endorsed marriage equality, and a day after North Carolina voters banned same-sex marriage by enshrining the law in the state constitution.
"I've always been adamant that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly," Obama told Roberts, in a snippet just released by ABC News.
"I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think 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, 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," Obama said in the interview, which will be broadcast in its entirety on ABC's "Good Morning America" on Thursday.
Obama also described how same-sex families impact that of his own family.
“It’s interesting, some of this is also generational. 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," the President said.
"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. It doesn’t make sense to them and frankly, that’s the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective,” Obama said.
The President has said that he is "evolving" on the highly charged issue, and today's announcement shows that he has fully embraced marriage equality, possibly at great political risk.
Fred Karger, the first openly gay presidential candidate who is running as a Republican, gave Obama some props today.
"I applaud President Obama for his strong statement and support for gay marriage today. We welcome him to the fight. He will be a great advocate as we do battle in four states this November," Karger said.
"His timing is particularly helpful in light of the loss we suffered yesterday in North Carolina," he said.
"It's nice to have another presidential candidate on board for full equality," said Karger, who supports marriage equality.
Romney, however, repeated his anti-gay stance.
"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," Romney said.
“Today, President Obama made history by boldly stating that gay and lesbian Americans should be fully and equally part of the fabric of American society and that our families deserve nothing less than the equal respect and recognition that comes through marriage," said Joe Solmonese, the outgoing president of the Human Rights Campaign who will go work for the Obama campaign when he leaves office.
“His presidency has shown that our nation can move beyond its shameful history of discrimination and injustice. In him, millions of young Americans have seen that their futures will not be limited by what makes them different. In supporting marriage equality, President Obama extends that message of hope to a generation of young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, helping them understand that they too can be who they are and flourish as part of the American community. And his words remind gay and lesbian families across the country, who, like their neighbors, struggle to afford healthcare and college for their kids, pay their taxes and plan for retirement – but with the added burden of discrimination — that they do not face those challenges alone and unheard," Solmonese said.
“Americans fundamentally believe in fairness, but many, like the President, have struggled to reconcile that core belief and the question of marriage equality. The President’s words will no doubt inspire thousands more conversations around kitchen tables and in church pews. We are confident that our nation will continue to move inexorably toward equality and we thank the President for so boldly leading us in that direction,” Solmonese said.
Incoming HRC President Chad Griffin, as AFER board president, also applauded President Obama’s support for marriage equality.
“President Obama’s words today will be celebrated by generations to come. For the millions of young gay and lesbian Americans across this nation, President Obama’s words provide genuine hope that they will be the first generation to grow up with the freedom to fully pursue the American dream. Marriage — the promise of love, companionship, and family — is basic to the pursuit of that dream. Our Constitution’s promise, the promise of liberty, is one that every generation must realize. As President Obama recognized today, the fight to secure marriage equality is the defining element of our generation’s search for greater freedom,” Griffin said.
“Today is a proud day for all Americans,” said Theodore B. Olson, AFER lead co-counsel who is fighting against California's Proposition 8 banning marriage equality in the Golden State. “The bedrock American principles of freedom and human dignity are central to the political and legal convictions of Republicans, Democrats, liberals, and conservatives alike. President Obama’s words remind us that marriage and equality are universal values that unite us all. They remind us that we are all — as a People and a Nation — striving to form a more perfect Union."
GLAAD president Herndon Graddick noted that Obama made history today.
"The arc of history today bent a little closer to equality for every American," Graddick said. "After hearing the stories of countless couples and families, President Obama has drawn the same conclusion shared across party lines and by a majority of Americans today: everyone deserves the opportunity to marry the person they love. As our nation draws closer to a more perfect union in which every person is created equal, we are left deeply encouraged by this truly watershed moment."
Michael Keegan, president of People For the American Way, applauded the President.
“Today’s announcement marks a proud day for our country and for the President. For those of us who have been working towards marriage equality for many years, the impact of having the support of the President of the United States is incredibly powerful. As President Obama made clear in his comments today, marriage equality for all people is an idea whose time has come. Despite setbacks like the results from North Carolina last night, it’s more obvious than ever that the momentum is on our side," Keegan said.
“In recent years, more and more Americans have come to understand that preventing loving same-sex couples from getting married causes real harm to the people they care about. In families and communities across the country, Americans are coming to the same conclusion as the President: when two people make a public commitment to love and care for each other, that’s a marriage no matter what the gender of the people involved," he said.
“Today the President did the right thing. For thousands of supporters who donated, canvassed and phone banked to help elect Barack Obama in 2008, this is a powerful reminder of why we felt so passionately about this President in the first place,” Keegan said.
"This is a watershed moment for the LGBT civil rights movement, but it's also a call to action. A president's vocal support for our community is a fantastic asset, but nothing can replace the hard work it will take to ensure we win the rights we deserve," said Chuck Wolfe, president and CEO of the Victory Fund.
"This year in Maryland and Washington state, marriage equality laws long sought by openly gay and lesbian state lawmakers were finally passed. Those successes came after determined efforts by coalitions of national, state and local LGBT groups, as well as tireless lobbying by the men and women whose lives would be most affected by these victories," Wolfe said.
Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, was overjoyed but urged supporters to redouble their efforts nationwide.
"At Freedom to Marry we know -- as the President and Vice President have just described -- that it's the power of our conversations about why marriage matters that changes hearts and minds. Through our hard work, determination and persuasive conversations, we have won the freedom to marry in six states and the District of Columbia, with states like California, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Washington, and others on the horizon - if we do our work with urgency and persuasion," Wolfson said.
"The President's announcement of support today marks a historic turning point for our freedom to marry movement.
"Yet there is much left to be done. Forty-four states continue to exclude same-sex couples from marriage and because of the federal so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the civil marriages of thousands of same-sex couples are not respected by the federal government, thus depriving families of a crucial safety-net of federal protections and responsibilities," Wolfson said.
Straight ally Cyndi Lauper, co-founder of the True Colors Fund that supports LGBT equality and fights LGBT homelessness, was thrilled.
"President Obama continues to be a true leader for equality and I have never been prouder to call him my president than I am today. The president's support of marriage equality gives hope and encouragement to the millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people who feel ostracized and alone. The words of the president have reinforced that they are worthy of dignity, respect, and love – just like everyone else. As a supporter of the president and a longtime advocate for young gay and lesbian Americans, I am thrilled about today’s news and I’m looking forward to my visit to Capitol Hill, where I will tomorrow appeal to members of Congress to fund programs supporting our homeless LGBT youth," Lauper said.
Out country music recording artist and founder of Kansas City's LIKEME® Lighthouse Chely Wright is a prominent spokeswoman for LGBT equality. Wright released the following statement upon hearing the news.
"President Obama's public affirmation of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community is an historic moment in American history," Wright said. "Our president has made a bold statement about leadership and equality– and his statement will have a profound effect on the lives of LGBT Americans, young and old. President Obama's powerful words will echo all over the nation– galvanizing the message that all Americans deserve dignity and that their equality matters.”
Out recording artist and talk-radio host Melissa Etheridge shared her support for the president's words from her web page.
"Every now and then an American gets a chance to be a leader, and change the world. President Obama has taken that chance and has made a choice that signals the tipping point in our culture's definition of love and family. His announcement brings in the new age of acceptance of diversity for which every American will benefit."
Sharon Lettman-Hicks, executive director and CEO of the National Black Justice Coalition, said Obama has an exemplary record advancing protections for the LGBT community.
"It is an honor to witness our President take such a strong stand in support of gay and lesbian couples across the country. This affirmation reinforces the Administration's ongoing commitment to LGBT Americans and our families," she said.
"As my (s)hero, Barbara Jordan, once said, 'one thing is clear to me: we, as human beings, must be willing to accept people who are different from ourselves.' Here is President Obama, the nation's first Black president, taking a position that no sitting president in history has had the fortitude to ever take. If anyone in America has ever wondered what courageous leadership looks like, here it is," Lettman-Hicks said.
Kevin Cathcart, executive director of Lambda Legal, celebrated the news.
"We welcome the news that President Obama understands the importance of equality for all people in this country and we are excited that he joins the majority of Americans in supporting the freedom to marry," he said.
"There is no bully pulpit bigger than the President's, and loving, committed same-sex couples across the country - and all of us - thank him for using it to speak up for justice and fairness. The momentum for marriage equality is building across the country. When people have a chance to think deeply about marriage equality, they come to the right answer - that discrimination against our families is wrong," Cathcart said.
"There's so much more work to be done. Right now, Lambda Legal is fighting in the courts for marriage equality in New Jersey and Nevada. There will be more fights at the ballot in November," he said.
"In my 30 years working in the LGBT movement, it has become easier to recognize watershed moments - and this is one. And we know we're winning because these watershed moments are beginning to happen closer together," Cathcart said.
Shannon Minter, NCLR legal director, said Obama did the right thing.
“President Obama has once again proven himself to be the strongest and most principled supporter of full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people ever to occupy the Oval Office. As he has done on so many other issues facing our community, the President showed his great depth of compassion and respect for the struggles faced by same-sex couples and their families and his commitment to genuine equality and justice for all people. This is an unforgettable day in our nation’s history, and one that will bring enormous comfort and hope to millions of Americans,” Minter said.
Carey Davidson, Equality California Institute board president, and Clarissa Filgioun, Equality California board president, issued a joint statement: "Today's announcement by President Obama represents an unmistakable and historic turning point in our movement to achieve full and lasting equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. When the highest authority in the land says that all committed couples should be able to enjoy the unique happiness, security and recognition that marriage brings, it sends a powerful message of fairness, acceptance and belonging to all of same-sex couples and their families who have been hurt by the exclusion from marriage as well as a message of hope to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people across this country. Today, the President has chosen conviction and conscience over political calculation. We applaud his courage and leadership today and throughout his presidency in advancing freedom and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”
California state Assemblymember Toni Atkins of San Diego, who is out, praised the President:
"I congratulate President Obama for using his bully pulpit as President to declare his support for marriage equality. The road to full equality for gay and lesbian couples has had both uplifting successes and demoralizing setbacks. Yesterday, we suffered a blow when the voters of North Carolina rejected marriage equality. Today, the world’s most powerful leader spoke out on behalf of fairness for all couples. I am confident that, in the end, it is the voice of fairness that will prevail," she said.
"As one of those who was lucky enough to be able to exercise my freedom when marriage for same sex couples was legal in California in 2008, I know marriage equality matters. Thank you, Mr. President," Atkins said.
Todd Gloria, the openly gay San Diego City Councilmember, thanked the President for his courage.
“Our President has once again broken a barrier that many thought would never be broken in our lifetime,” Gloria said. “This is a historic step for equality. I thank the President for taking this courageous stand and am grateful for his leadership.
“Years from now, we will remember where we were when we learned that the leader of the free world formally lent his support for the freedom to marry. Today's announcement reminds us that in America, all are created equal. I look forward to the day when all Americans are treated equally by their government.”
Justin Ruben, executive director of MoveOn.org, hailed the news.
“This is a historic day. The president's support for marriage equality is great news that's likely to energize progressive activists across the country,” Ruben said.
Numerous polls show that a majority of Americans are increasingly supportive of marriage equality, although opposition remains strong among Republicans, Tea Party, the Far Right, Evangelicals, Fundamentalists, Mormons and the Roman Catholic Church.
Obama is already considered the most gay-friendly President in U.S. history, ushering in the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and a myriad other issues in support of equal rights for the LGBT community.
To read the White House's list of "Progress for the LGBT Community," click HERE.
For a timeline on how Obama has "evolved" on marriage equality, compiled by ABC News, click HERE.
SDGLN will update this story as it develops.
Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to (877) 727-5446, ext. 713.