President Barack Obama said he could not imagine a circumstance in which a state banning gay marriage was legal, wading into an issue he initially said should be left to the states.
ABC News' George Stephanopoulos asked Obama in an interview released Wednesday whether gay marriage was a right under the Constitution.
"Well, I’ve gotta tell you that -- in terms of practical politics, what I’ve seen is a healthy debate taking place state by state, and not every state has the exact same attitudes and cultural mores. And I -- you know, my thinking was that this is traditionally a state issue and -- that it will work itself out," he said. "On the other hand -- what I also believe is that the core principle that people don’t get discriminated against -- that’s one of our core values. And it’s in our Constitution."
Stephanopoulos then asked whether Obama could imagine a circumstance wherein a state's gay marriage ban could pass constitutional muster.
"Well, I can’t, personally. I cannot," Obama responded. "That’s part of the reason I said, ultimately, I think that, same-sex couples should be able to marry. That’s my personal position. And, frankly, that’s the position that’s reflected -- in the briefs that we filed -- in the Supreme Court."
Obama's position is a striking change from when he originally came out in favor of gay marriage last May. While announcing his support, he stressed over and over that the issue should be left to the states. "What I'm saying is is that different states are coming to different conclusions. But this debate is taking place -- at a local level. And I think the whole country is evolving and changing. And -- you know, one of the things that I'd like to see is -- that a conversation continue in a respectful way," he told Robin Roberts at the time.
However, the Supreme Court is taking up both California's gay marriage ban, Proposition 8, and the Defense of Marriage Act, in back-to-back cases in late March. The Obama administration has submitted a legal brief saying that it believes that the California ban is unconstitutional and the Justice Department has stopped defending the constitutionality of DOMA.
On the other hand, Obama in his second inaugural address said that the fight for gay rights would not be over until gay marriage was recognized in all states.
"Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law," he said, "for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well."
Clarification: Due to an editor error, the original story stated that the administration has stopped enforcing DOMA, rather, the administration has stopped defending the constitutionality of DOMA.
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"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