President Barack Obama today endorsed same sex marriage, amid growing pressure from gay rights groups and his own Democratic party.
In an interview at the White House with ABC News, Obama said he's been supportive of civil unions for gays and lesbians, but has decided "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 that he still believes that states should decide the law for themselves, but suggested that the tide is turning in the U.S. -- despite a contrary vote Tuesday in North Carolina. He said his daughters, Sasha and Malia, 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."
The pressure on Obama to speak on gay marriage increased over the weekend when two of Obama's closest advisers – Vice President Joe Biden and Education Secretary Arne Duncan – both expressed personal support for same-sex marriage.
Duncan, a close friend from Chicago days, was asked on television Monday whether he believes people should be allowed to legally wed members of their own gender. "Yes, I do," he said on MSNBC. Biden a day earlier had personally embraced same-sex marriage.
"I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men and women marrying one another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties," Biden said Sunday on NBC.
Gay rights groups applauded both comments and worked to leverage pressure on Obama. But the decision to embrace gay marriage carries risks for Obama in culturally conservative areas -- and potentially among voters in swing states like North Carolina, which Tuesday became the 31st state to add an amendment on marriage to its constitution, with voters banning same-sex marriage and barring legal recognition of unmarried couples by state and local governments.
Obama has long wrestled with the subject, flip flopping over the years. He was first for same sex marriage, then against it, and on Wednesday, for it again.
"I favor legalizing same-sex marriages," he said in a statement while running for the Illinois state Senate in 1996.
"What I believe is that marriage is between a man and a woman, he said in anew positon whil running for the U.S. Senate in 2004. “What I believe, in my faith, is that a man and a woman, when they get married, are performing something before God, and it's not simply the two persons who are meeting,"
"Personally, I do believe that marriage is between a man and a woman,” he said in a 2007 Senate debate
But he also started signaling that he could change his mind.
"It is my obligation, not only as an elected official in a pluralistic society but also as a Christian, to remain open to the possibility that my unwillingness to support gay marriage is misguided,” he wrote in his 2006 book, Audacity to Hope, “and that in years hence I may be seen as someone who was on the wrong side of history.
"My feelings about this are constantly evolving," he said in 2010. "I struggle with this."