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Obama supporting gay marriage: Biden Sunday comments spurred Wednesday news

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WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama completed a years-long self-described "evolution" -- speeded up by comments Vice President Joe Biden made on Sunday -- and on Wednesday reversed himself and said he backs gay 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 told ABC's Robin Roberts in an interview taped at the White House on Wednesday afternoon.

Bottom line: Obama's embrace of gay marriage was no surprise.

When Obama ran for an Illinois state Senate seat in 1996, from a district anchored in the liberal Hyde Park neighborhood, he backed legalizing gay marriage in a letter that he signed to a Chicago gay publication, replying to a questionnaire.

When Obama ran for a U.S. Senate seat in 2004, he said marriage was between a man and a woman.

While he championed and delivered on many gay issues, Obama stopped short on same-sex marriage once he reached the national stage. "I hesitated on gay marriage," he told Roberts, "because I thought civil unions would be sufficient."

Obama, I'm told, was going to come out for gay marriage before the election -- just not this week. The decision to book the interview with ABC was made Tuesday, I was told by two sources.

The expectation, I was told, was that Obama would be asked directly about gay marriage.

What tipped the scale to make the announcement now? Vice President Joe Biden told NBC's David Gregory on "Meet the Press" Sunday that he was "absolutely comfortable" with same-sex couples marrying. I'm told that Biden felt empowered to speak his mind -- because Obama had "shared his feelings" about backing gay marriage with Biden.

Biden's candid remarks revived a national debate on the subject, building pressure on Obama by gay supporters -- some big fund-raisers -- to clarify his views.

That, in turn, threw the Obama team off in a week where Obama formally kicked off campaigning. His themes of student loan rates and giving Congress a "to-do" list were drowned out by gay marriage.

In the ABC interview, Obama said he was influenced by his Christian faith, friends, gay staffers and gay members of the military he has met. Obama said that first lady Michelle Obama agreed that same-sex marriage should be legal.

"This is something that, you know, we've talked about over the years and she, you know, she feels the same way that I do," Obama said. "We are both practicing Christians, and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it's also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated."

"And I think that's what we try to impart to our kids, and that's what motivates me as president, and I figure the most consistent I can be in being true to those precepts, the better I'll be as a dad and a husband and hopefully the better I'll be as president," Obama said.

A source close to Obama told me the president "has been going through some soul-searching for a long time. He has spoken with Michelle and other family members and friends. He has many gay friends in committed relationships, including many in the military.

"And as he travels, folks have told him their stories. He had shared his feelings with the VP, which I think contributed to the VP feeling comfortable about expressing his own feelings. The VP's comments contributed to speeding up the timing, but he always intended to announce it sooner rather than later."

The Obama White House on Wednesday did extensive outreach to a variety of groups and individuals who have championed gay marriage, with calls going to, I heard, advocates, religious leaders and elected officials.

Will the gay marriage issue impact the November election?

There is now a clear difference: Obama is for it, presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney against.

Obama's support for gay marriage comes a day after voters in North Carolina -- a battleground state where Democrats are holding their convention later this year -- overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage.

Polling shows gay marriage is not high on a list of voter concerns. Independents back gay marriage. There has been some African-American clergy opposition to same-sex marriage.

Obama's move will energize his base and keep them engaged. Last week, I wrote that I wouldn't be surprised if Obama finished his "evolution" and says "Yes, I do," when asked whether he backs gay marriage -- but it would be after the election. I was wrong. Give Obama credit for letting people know where he stands now, before they vote.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on May 9, 2012 11:06 PM.

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