Last week President Obama surprised everyone by announcing that he believed gay people should be allowed to marry. It was a proud day for America, and gay rights groups have welcomed his statement.
Obama said that he had always supported civil unions for gay people, but had been unsure about the idea of marriage for cultural reasons. "I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people the world marriage evokes a lot of traditions, religious beliefs and so forth," he said, but added that after conversations with his children, who have friends whose parents are gay, he reached a conclusion. "For me personally it is important for me to affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married."
It's a politically divisive stance. Fifty-two percent of Americans approve of same-sex marriage, but there is still plenty of prejudice, and more than 30 American states have banned it. Federal law does not recognize gay marriage and Obama's remarks remain personal rather than relating to policy.
While many countries allow gay people to declare their love and commitment in civil partnerships, marriage remains a tricky subject. France, for instance, does not allow gay people to marry although we have a civil union contract called the PACS (pacte civil de solidarité), which is an option for both gay and straight couples.
Marriage is important for so many reasons, not just on an emotional level but financially. Without the status of marriage, gay couples can spend tens of thousands of dollars (or euros) more than straight couples over a lifetime, losing out on insurance and other benefits.
Obama's statement was a step in the right direction and I hope that other leaders will follow suit. Gay people, both men and women, have waited long enough for equality.