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Amanda Terkel

White House Reportedly Reached Out To LGBT And Religious Leaders Around Obama's ABC Interview

Posted: 05/10/2012 6:24 pm Updated: 05/11/2012 12:19 am


WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's decision to announce his support for marriage equality on Wednesday was a tightly kept secret, even within the White House. He consulted with a very small group of advisers -- just six or seven people -- about how he would break the news, and aides were told not to tell a single outside figure in the gay right debate about the forthcoming announcement.

Yet as soon as the interview aired, the embargo was lifted and the Obama administration began contacting leaders in the LGBT community.

LGBT activists were unwilling to talk about their discussions with the White House that day. The Huffington Post learned from an informed source, however, that White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett immediately called Joe Solmonese and Chad Griffin of the Human Rights Campaign and spoke to them as the interview with Obama aired on ABC News. Solmonese is the outgoing president of HRC; Griffin will take his place on June 11.

According to the source, Jarrett was so excited on the call that at first, it was hard to understand what she was saying, underscoring the strong support for marriage equality among many White House aides and their excitement that the president was ready to publicly join them.

The Rev. Joel Hunter, whom the Washington Post describes as a "spiritual adviser" to Obama, reportedly received a call from the president himself.

Hunter, who leads a 15,000-member congregation in Florida, told an Orlando Fox affiliate that Obama called him before the ABC News interview aired and told him that he did not make the decision to endorse marriage equality lightly.

"He told me how much he prayed and how difficult a decision this was for him," said Hunter, who conveyed his disagreement with the president.

"He knew where I stood, because I'm an evangelical and I believe in what the scripture says. One of the reasons he was calling was to protect our relationship and give me a 'heads up' on an interview he had just done," Hunter added. "It wasn't something we were able to talk through, or I would have talked him out of it."

A spokesman for Obama declined to comment on the White House's outreach around the announcement. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was similarly mum during a briefing with reporters on Wednesday.

"I don't have any conversations of the president to read out to you," said Carney, when asked by a reporter whether he would name the people with whom Obama spoke after the interview. "The president had quite a busy day yesterday, and it continued to be busy after his interview."

Another person Obama talked to before his interview was, not surprisingly, Vice President Joseph Biden, who set the ball in motion by unexpectedly backing marriage equality in a Sunday "Meet the Press" interview. A few hours before the president went public with his support, Biden apologized to Obama in the Oval Office. According to The New York Times, the president "bore Mr. Biden no lingering ill will."

Below, a slideshow of politicians' reactions to Obama's announcement:

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  • Mitt Romney

    "I believe marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman," Mitt Romney said.

  • Kyrsten Sinema

  • Daniel O'Donnell

  • Kirsten Gillibrand

  • Jeff Merkley

  • Elizabeth Warren

  • Michael Bloomberg

    "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."

  • Jerrold Nadler

    "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."

  • Brad Lander

  • Fred Karger

    "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."

  • Vince Gray

  • Martin O'Malley

  • Sen. Jeanne Shaheen

  • Barack Obama

  • Mark Udall

  • Senator Chris Coons

  • Rep.George Miller

  • Jim Himes

  • Nancy Pelosi

  • Nita Lowey

    "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.)

  • Antonio Villaraigosa

  • Jackie Speier

  • Michael Steele

  • Dennis Kucinich

  • John Brunner

  • Cory Booker

  • Chris Gregoire

  • Fred Karger

  • Ted Strickland

  • Jared Polis

  • Reince Priebus

    "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

  • Chellie Pingree

  • Christine C. Quinn

  • Mike Huckabee

    "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

  • Deval Patrick

  • Frank Lautenberg

    "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."

  • Allen West

  • Ann McLane Kuster

  • Sen. Patrick Leahy

  • Peter Welch

    "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

  • Steve Rothman

    "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."

  • Chuck Schumer

  • JackieForNH

  • Howard Dean

    "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."

  • Mike Quigley

  • Senator Ben Cardin

  • Sen. Barbara Boxer

  • Senator Dick Durbin

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