President Obama has affirmed his support for same-sex marriage. In a taped interview on Wednesday with Good Morning America's Robin Roberts, to be aired in full on the show's Thursday broadcast, Obama said that he is no longer standing on the issue's sidelines.
"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," Obama said, listing a few of his policy accomplishments for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, including his repeal of "Don't ask, don't tell" and no longer defending the Defense of Marriage Act. "And I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people, the word 'marriage' was something that evokes very powerful traditions, religious beliefs and so forth."
But over the course of several years, Obama said, he has come to embrace marriage equality:
As I talk to friends, family and neighbors; when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed, monogamous 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're 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.
The president's announcement came the day after North Carolina voters approved a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman (a vote that "disappointed" the president, according to his re-election campaign), and during a week when Vice President Joe Biden and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have both publicly supported gay marriage. Until now, however, the president hadn't publicly supported same-sex marriage himself, only saying coyly that his views were "evolving."
The president, who usually avoids risk, has had his reasons for being ambiguous about it in a hostile political climate. Taking North Carolina into account alone, a swing state where the anti-gay-marriage amendment passed overwhelmingly, his evolution could potentially spell trouble. But Sharon Lettman-Hicks, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition director, a civil rights group dedicated to empowering black lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, says that his new position goes beyond politics.
“This was a moment of personal conviction, a moment of trying to help the country get beyond itself,” Lettman-Hicks told The Root. “It’s clear that the president realizes the noise is not going to go away, and that responsible leadership was needed at this critical time.”
In contrast, the chairman of the Republican National Committee said that President Obama’s endorsement was a purely political move. “While President Obama has played politics on this issue, the Republican Party and our presumptive nominee Mitt Romney have been clear," RNC Chairman Reince Priebus wrote in a statement. “We support maintaining marriage between one man and one woman and would oppose any attempts to change that.”
Lettman-Hicks acknowledged the reality of political fallout when 31 states have amendments in their constitutions against same-sex marriage. “We now have work to do, the work of personal outreach, education and understanding with the citizens of America that have not ‘evolved,’” she said. “But I can say politically, I would rather support a person who can stand up for others despite the political risks. I’m proud that, at a time when there is so much anxiety over the advancement of LGBT equality, my president would exude courageous leadership to recognize that there is nothing more important than human dignity.”
Cynthia Gordy is The Root's senior political correspondent.