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In Change Of Pace, Obama Supports Gay Marriage


It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block. First this hour, President Obama's affirmation of same-sex marriage. He spoke today with ABC News, citing the influence of family, friends and staff members in changing his views. The president said he'd been hesitant to support same-sex marriage in part because of the religious sensitivity many Americans have when it comes to marriage. But ultimately, he said even strong civil unions are not enough for some gay and lesbian couples.

PRESIDENT BARACK 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.

BLOCK: The president's move won immediate praise from gay rights activists, but it's not without political risk. For more, NPR's Scott Horsley joins me from the White House. And, Scott, this is an issue the president has been sidestepping for some time now. He'd recently told Rolling Stone magazine he was not prepared to make news on the subject. Now, he has. What changed?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Well, the timing of today's interview was sort of forced by Vice President Biden's comments over the weekend that he supports same-sex marriage. We've also had a couple of Cabinet secretaries take that position. And that's been prompting a lot of questions from the news media about where the president stood. Mr. Obama famously said in late 2010 that this is something he struggles with, and that his views were evolving. Ultimately, as you pointed out, he was swayed by the gay and lesbian couples that he knows personally.

OBAMA: I think about members of my own staff who are incredibly committed in 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're not able to commit themselves in a marriage.

HORSLEY: Now, while the White House says this interview perhaps came sooner than they had planned, they say the president was planning for some time to take this public stance before the November election.

BLOCK: And, Scott, if you look at the polls, where is the American public on this question of same-sex marriage?

HORSLEY: Well, voters' views are also evolving. Pollsters now say supporters of same-sex marriage narrowly outnumber opponents. That's a big change. In fact, senior administration officials say they've never seen such a rapid change in public opinion on a big social issue like this. But historically, the opponents of gay marriage have been much more energized than the sort of mild supporters. That may be changing. But what we can say is every time this issue has come to a vote at the state level, same-sex marriage has lost, including yesterday when it was overwhelmingly defeated in North Carolina.

BLOCK: Yeah. And Mitt Romney came out today and reaffirmed his opposition to same-sex marriage, as well as civil unions that would include all the protections of marriage. Could Mr. Obama's new position on this issue hurt him at the polls in November?

HORSLEY: Well, political advisers don't think this is going to be a decisive issue one way or the other. They just don't think a lot of people who were inclined to vote for the president before or inclined to vote against him are going to change their views because of this. Young voters, who are an important part of the president's coalition four years ago, are generally supportive. On the other hand, African-American voters are generally opposed to same-sex marriage. So it could be sort of a wash.

BLOCK: And how much of a campaign issue do you figure this becomes between now and November?

HORSLEY: Well, the president's advisers don't think that he's going to be talking a whole lot about this. He still says it's an issue that basically belongs at the state level. And in some sense, he gave this statement to ABC today to sort of move it off the front burner. It's been an issue that's been the chatter of Washington for the last few days, and they want to get back to talking about the economy.

BLOCK: OK. Scott, thank you.

HORSLEY: My pleasure.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Scott Horsley at the White House. He was talking about the president's statements today that he now believes same-sex couples should be able to get married. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.