A day after North Carolina became the 30th state to adopt a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions, President Obama became the first sitting president to say gay marriage should be legal.
The president made the comments during an interview Wednesday afternoon with ABC News' Robin Roberts.
"I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don't Ask Don't Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point 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," the President said during the interview.
Just a few days earlier, Vice-President Joe Biden said he was "comfortable" with gay marriage and Education Secretary Arne Duncan also came out in favor of allowing same-sex couples to marry.
“It’s interesting, some of this is also generational," Obama said during the ABC interview. "You know when I go to college campuses, sometimes I talk to college Republicans who think that I have terrible policies on the economy, on foreign policy, but are very clear that when it comes to same sex equality or, you know, sexual orientation that they believe in equality. They are much more comfortable with it. You know, Malia and Sasha, they have friends whose parents are same-sex couples. There have been times where Michelle and I have been sitting around the dinner table and we’re talking about their friends and their parents and Malia and Sasha, it wouldn’t dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated differently. It doesn’t make sense to them and frankly, that’s the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective.”
In the past, the president said his position on the matter was "evolving."
His likely opponent come November, Mitt Romney, opposes both gay marriage and civil unions. "If a civil union is identical to marriage other than in the name, I don't support that," the presumptive Republican nominee said in an inteview Wednesday.
Kansans are split on how the issue will impact this year's election. "I think what this does is energizes the youth, it reenergizes the party, and it recommits the party to civil rights for all people," said Wichita gay rights activist Jason Dilts.
"I really believe that many people in the Democratic Party will be very upset by this decision," said Wichita Pastor Terry Fox. "I think it will make a difference of how they vote."
A Gallup poll released this week finds 50% of Americans believe same-sex marriages should be legal, with 48% saying such marriages should not be legal. Support for marriage equality has risen steadily over the past 10 to 15 years.
Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York and the District of Columbia issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
In February, Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire signed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage beginning in June, but opponents have pledged to block the bill and force a statewide vote.
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley signed into law a bill that permits the state's same-sex couples to wed as of January 1, and state residents may vote to affirm such a law.
Minnesota will vote on a state constitutional amendment similar to the one in North Carolina. Maine will have a referendum on allowing same-sex marriage.
Obama & Gay Rights
In 2010, Congress passed and President Obama signed the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Then last year, the U.S. joined dozens of other countries in allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military.
The president has also directed the Justice Department not to defend the federal Defense Against Marriage Act or DOMA. Republicans are challenging that decision.
The president's change of heart follows many within his own party.
In 2000, the Democratic Party platform stated the party supported "the full inclusion of gay and lesbian families in the life of the nation," and "an equitable alignment of benefits."
In 2004, in the face of an effort supported by the Bush campaign to put gay marriage bans to statewide referendums, the Democratic platform stated that marriage "has been defined at the state level for 200 years, and we believe it should continue to be defined there."
By 2008, the party vowed to "enact a comprehensive bipartisan employment non-discrimination act," and opposed the Defense of Marriage Act "and all attempts to use this issue to divide us."
President Obama says he still supports letting states decide the issue on their own.
Legal challenges over same-sex marriage could reach the U.S. Supreme Court later this year.
The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals will decide the constitutionality of California Proposition 8, a voter-approved measure that would recognize marriage only between one man and one woman. A federal judge earlier struck down the law as a violation of equal protection, prompting the current appeal.
A federal appeals court in Boston last month heard a DOMA lawsuit by a same-sex couple in Massachusetts. At issue is whether the federal government can deny tax, health and pension benefits to same-sex couples in states where they can marry.
That federal law is being officially defended in court by House Republicans.