The announcement came one day after North Carolinians overwhelmingly affirmed the traditional definition of marriage. Four other states will consider the issue this year, a year in which Obama is seeking re-election.
Obama seemed to be forced into stating his position after Vice President Joe Biden told NBC's "Meet the Press" three days earlier that he is "comfortable" with gays and lesbians "marrying."
Obama made the announcement during an interview with ABC News' Robin Roberts.
"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 Roberts. The full interview will air later Wednesday on ABC's "World News with Diane Sawyer."
Even before Obama was elected, some conservative and liberal pundits scoffed at the suggestion that Obama did not support gay "marriage." For instance, in 2008 he opposed California Prop 8, a constitutional amendment that defined marriage as being between a man and a woman. In 2011 he ordered the Justice Department to stop defending in court the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law that defines marriage in the traditional sense, and he also announced support for a congressional bill that would overturn the law. And this year, his spokespersons announced he opposed proposed constitutional marriage amendments in North Carolina and Minnesota. He's also spoken twice to events held by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay group. Yet all along, the White House maintained he merely was "evolving" on the issue.
Bryant Wright, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, reacted to the news with sadness.
"It is very depressing news when the president of the United States uses his power of influence to endorse same-sex marriage," Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., told Baptist Press. "... Scripture is very clear that from the beginning, God intended marriage to be between one man and one woman. It is important for us who are followers of Jesus to uphold the sacredness of marriage according to Scripture."
Wright added, "Christians are called to pray for our government leaders, and it is now more important than ever to pray for President Obama in this very misguided decision."
It remains to be seen whether it will cost Obama politically. Although some polls now show majority support for gay "marriage," it has yet to translate to the ballot. North Carolina voters Tuesday passed a constitutional amendment defining marriage between one man and one woman, and the margin of victory -- 61-39 percent -- surprised even supporters. Thirty-two states now have voted on the issue, and traditional marriage has won with an average margin of 67-33 percent.
After watching the North Carolina results Tuesday night, pollster Tom Jensen of the left-leaning Public Policy Polling send out a Tweet, saying, "Hate to say it but I don't believe polls showing majority support for gay marriage nationally. Any time there's a vote it doesn't back it up."
Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee, said he, was "saddened" and "deeply disappointed" by Obama's announcement.
"No matter what culture may dictate with its ever-changing winds, I am grateful for the sure and unchanging source of authority we have in Scripture," Page said. "We must hold to God's Word on this and many other issues."
Jim Campbell, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund -- which defends traditional marriage laws -- said Obama's announcement could negatively impact families.
"The president has spoken eloquently about how fatherless homes often hurt children and society," Campbell said. "Today's statement is a tragic contradiction that promotes the creation of even more fatherless and motherless homes."
President Clinton also supports gay "marriage," but he made his announcement in 2009, well after leaving office.
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp). Read Glenn Stanton's column, "Why not legalize gay marriage?" at http://www.bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=37494
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