May 9, 2012 became an historic day for equal rights in America. For the first time, a U.S. President has unequivocally and publically given his support for the legalization of same-sex marriage. While this statement may be symbolic and does not carry the full force of Federal law, its significance cannot be overstated.
In an interview with Robin Roberts of ABC News, President Obama acknowledged he had believed civil unions would have been sufficient, but now he decided to take it to a new level.“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,” the president said.
Most observers speculated that Vice President Joe Biden's comments on Meet the Press three days earlier pushed the president in making this move now. On that broadcast Mr. Biden said that he was perfectly “comfortable” with gay people being married.
“I am vice president of the United States of America,” Biden replied to a question posed by David Gregory. “The president sets the policy. I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And quite frankly, I don't see much of a distinction—beyond that.”For his part, the president indicated that his announcement was going to take place in the near future. “I had already made a decision that we were going to take this position before the election and before the convention,” Mr. Obama said on ABC the next day. “He probably got out a little bit over his skis, but out of a generosity of spirit. … Would I have preferred to have done this in my own way, on my own terms without there being a lot of notice to everybody, sure.”
This occurred a day after voters in North Carolina—a battleground state in the upcoming presidential election—resoundingly voted by a 22-point margin to forever ban marriage for same-sex couples and as well as civil unions.As portions of the broadcast were released by ABC, within minutes leaders of LGBT organizations and elected officials commended the president for this statement that many viewed as courageous, overdue and in some quarters, even risky.
“Today, President Obama affirmed that for a people of many different faiths—a people who are committed to the principle of religious freedom—the way forward is always to be found through greater respect for the equal rights and human dignity of all,” said Governor Martin O'Malley, who on March 1 signed into law a bill that legalizes same-sex marriage in Maryland. “In Maryland, we agree.”
Chad Griffin, the incoming president of the Human Rights Campaign released the following statement: “If you are one of those who care about this issue, you will not forget where you were when you saw the president deliver those remarks. Regardless of how old you are, it’s the first time you have ever seen a president of the United States look into a camera and say that a gay person should be treated equally under the law. The message that that sends, to a young gay or transgendered person struggling to come out, is life changing.”Carrie Evans, the executive director for Equality Maryland said, “The President came out in support of the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. Although this statement does not undo the results of [the] vote in North Carolina, it does provide us with hope—the hope that people’s hearts and minds can evolve on this issue. And though this evolution may not always be on the timetable we would devise, we must embrace this historic declaration by President Obama.
In 1996, Obama indicated support in a questionnaire, then reversed course in his 2004 Senate race, and in 2008, he argued for civil unions. In February 2011, President Obama instructed the Justice Department to no longer defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, the legal prohibition on federal recognition of same-sex marriages.
But to the frustration of marriage equality activists, Mr. Obama maintained that his position on marriage equality is “evolving.” With the president’s historic public statement on May 9, the evolution is complete.