WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama came to the decision that he personally supported same sex marriage early in 2012, top administration officials told reporters shortly after the president announced that support.
The plan had been to announce his position before the Democratic National Convention. But after Vice President Joseph Biden declared his support for marriage equality on Sunday, the issue touched off a political firestorm and the timeframe for Obama's announcement was expedited.
Those top officials, speaking on condition that they not be named or quoted, said that the president was not agitated about Biden's appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press." Instead, he decided that he had to make his position known sooner rather than later. The administration had knowledge of Biden's remarks after he taped his interview last Friday. By Tuesday morning, aides began putting a plan in motion.
The president would conduct an interview with ABC's Robin Roberts, during which he would explain how he had come to take the final step in an 18-month-long evolution of his stance on marriage equality.
The White House had wanted to break the news in such a setting from the get-go. Now, however, it had to be done rapidly and with some secrecy. On Monday, Press Secretary Jay Carney was peppered with an estimated 50 questions on Biden's statement, the most he had received on any one topic during a single briefing since the beginning of his tenure. By Tuesday, the White House had notified ABC that Obama wanted to do a sit-down. Aides were instructed not to tell a single outside stakeholder in the gay rights debate about the forthcoming announcement.
Speaking just minutes after portions of that interview were broadcast, senior administration officials took pains to stress that the president had made a personal and not a political decision to speak out. He had been moved, they said, by a fundraising trip he had made to New York shortly after that state legalized gay marriage, during which he thought to himself how he would have voted on the issue as a state legislator. He also marveled at the fact that his daughters, who had friends with gay parents, could never conceive of gay marriage being controversial.
Taking counsel from a small group of advisers -- six to seven people in total -- Obama outlined how, exactly, he would break the news.
The senior administration officials declined to say whether the president would now push for gay marriage to be part of the Democratic Party's platform at the convention. They also said they were not changing positions on an Executive Order that would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation against federal contractors. The president has said he would not sign that order.
As for the politics of the matter, the senior administration officials cautioned that it was too early to read into the electoral fallout. They noted that public opinion had changed faster on this issue than on any other they had followed in their own political careers. And they noted that presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's viewpoint –- that the Constitution should contain an amendment asserting that marriage is between a man and a woman -- was quite unpopular.
There were, however, reasons why even party officials were insisting, not all that long ago, that the president needed to put this off until after the election. There is concern that support for gay marriage will drive away voters in some conservative-leaning swing states. There is even more concern that Republican operatives can and will use the issue to go after the president.
"The question is, is there a risk?" a prominent Democratic Party official who requested anonymity told The Huffington Post just days ago. "It is not nationwide [polling] we are talking about. We are talking about Virginia, North Carolina and other swing states. And we are talking about, would Karl Rove and his team stoop to using horribly grotesque and hateful tactics ... and would that peel off 10,000 votes?"Below, a slideshow of politicians' reactions to Obama's announcement:
"I believe marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman," Mitt Romney said.
"This is a major turning point in the history of American civil rights," said New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. "No American president has ever supported a major expansion of civil rights that has not ultimately been adopted by the American people - and I have no doubt that this will be no exception. The march of freedom that has sustained our country since the Revolution of 1776 continues, and no matter what setbacks may occur in a given state, freedom will triumph over fear and equality will prevail over exclusion. Today's announcement is a testament to the President's convictions, and it builds on the courageous stands that so many Americans have taken over the years on behalf of equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans, stretching back to the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village."
"I applaud President Obama for announcing his support for marriage equality today," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) "For the first time in this nation's history, a sitting president has shown the courage and leadership to stand up for all American families by pledging to support the fundamental right of every person to marry the person they love, and to have that marriage fully respected. I commend President Obama for this brave and honest step. Those who seek to politicize civil rights for personal or political gain will certainly attack him, but the course toward marriage equality and justice is the correct and inevitable path."
"I'm thrilled!" longshot GOP presidential candidate Fred Karger told HuffPost, referring to Obama's embrace of marriage equality. Karger is the first openly gay Republican or Democrat to run for president. "The Karger pressure has worked," he joked. "Particularly after the defeat in North Carolina, we welcome him to the full equality position."
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen
Senator Chris Coons
"I have been blessed to have a long and happy marriage. I strongly believe all Americans deserve that same opportunity," said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.)
"While President Obama has played politics on this issue, the Republican Party and our presumptive nominee Mitt Romney have been clear. We support maintaining marriage between one man and one woman and would oppose any attempts to change that," said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Christine C. Quinn
"Barack Obama just announced he supports same-sex marriage," Mike Huckabee wrote in a fundraising appeal to supporters. "Nancy Pelosi immediately jumped on the announcement and emailed Democrat activists nationwide promising to continue their fight. This is going to be a defining issue this election. Obama, Pelosi and the Democrats have been a complete failure on economic issues so now they are going to focus on issues that will rile up their base. Well, Mr. President it's going to rile up our folks also. Men and women who support traditional marriage."
Rep. Bill Taylor
"President Obama's support for marriage equality marks an important moment for civil rights in America," said Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), who co-sponsored legislation that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). "We simply can not treat same sex couples as second-class citizens in our country. Marriage equality is one of the most significant civil rights battles of our time and is critical to guaranteeing the equal protection under the law promised to every American in the Constitution. The President's support for marriage equality should inspire Congress, Governors and state legislatures to advance civil rights for all Americans."
Ann McLane Kuster
Sen. Patrick Leahy
"This is an historic moment and I applaud the President for his decision and courage," Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said. "One of the greatest and most liberating human emotions is acceptance. And what the President did today was accept that the quality of love two people share is more important than their gender. The President's decision required him look within and engage his heart. It is truly wonderful and welcome news."
Senator Patty Murray
"As an early and strong proponent of Marriage Equality, I am very happy that President Obama has made this announcement," said Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) "Marriage Equality is a matter of basic human rights and all of America's same-sex families are now closer to having their unions recognized by our government. This is an important step in our country's march toward achieving true justice and equality for all."
"President Obama's public support for marriage equality is an historic affirmation of the fundamental American value of equal rights for all," said Howard Dean. "Having signed the nation's first law allowing Civil Unions as Governor of Vermont, I'm also proud to see our president affirm the belief that I and so many other Americans hold: loving and committed couples should have the same benefits that are extended through marriage. Marriage equality is a right and a benefit to all families."
Senator Ben Cardin
Sen. Barbara Boxer
Senator Dick Durbin