Gay marriage is a big subject to raise in the six months before the American people vote on who will lead the country. Barack Obama is the first sitting US president to say openly he supports it. It is a big follow-up on his abrogation in 2010 of a 1993 law that would get a person discharged from the military if she or he said ‘I am gay’.
Obama said in an interview at the White House with ABC News: “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.”
In this, Obama joins half of American public opinion. Ten years ago or so, only about a third were okay with the idea.
In terms of laws in the 50 states, they have not kept pace with opinion. Putting it very simply, we can say that a large majority of them do not allow gay marriage, and that eight states do, and a handful are supportive of same-sex unions to some extent. Marriage laws are written at the state level.
Obama’s administration has already declared the federal law banning gay marriage to be discriminatory and has extended spousal benefits to the domestic partners of federal employees. The president’s affirmation is symbolic. But for any undecided voters who feel strongly otherwise, they know their man would be the conservative challenger Mitt Romney.
Romney has been reiterating on the campaign trail that: “I have the same view on marriage that I had when I was Governor and that I have expressed many times. I believe marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman.”
Two of the main reasons people oppose gay marriage are their fixation on sex and their religious beliefs.
Peter Sprigg, senior fellow at the Family Research Council, a Christian organisation, said: “I think that the president has finally ended his hypocrisy on this issue. Frankly I think it reduces his chances of re-election.”
While many of America’s Christians feel convinced of that, gay-rights groups rejoiced over Obama’s socially liberal declaration. The Washington Post newspaper said on Monday that one in every six of his big campaign donors is gay.
Gay Rights Activist Stuart Gaffney said: “To be honest, today I feel more American, because President Obama has affirmed that he isn’t just the President for some of us. He’s the President for all of us.”
Obama has wavered over gay marriage. Running for Senate in 1996 he said he favoured it. In 2004 he said “marriage is between a man and a woman”. He opposed gay marriage in his 2008 presidential campaign. In 2010 he said: “My feelings about this are constantly evolving.”