President Obama declared for the first time on Wednesday that he supports same-sex marriage, putting the moral power of his presidency behind a social issue that continues to divide the country.
“At a certain point,” Mr. Obama said in an interview in the Cabinet Room at the White House with ABC’s Robin Roberts, “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 comments end years of public equivocating over the divisive social issue for the president, who has previously said he opposed gay marriage but repeatedly said he was “evolving” on the issue because of contact with friends and others who are gay.
Mr. Obama’s remarks — becoming the first sitting president to support extending the rights and status of marriage to gay couples — came after long-standing pressure from gay rights activists who are among his most loyal constituent but have been frustrated by his refusal to weigh in on the issue.
But the decision to risk the potential political damage in an election year by coming out in favor of same-sex marriages appears to have been driven by the unexpected declarations of support for gay marriage by his vice president and several cabinet members.
His remarks came after Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said on Sunday that he is “absolutely comfortable” with the idea of gay Americans marrying each other. Arne Duncan, the secretary education, said a day later that he flatly supports gay marriage.
After days of repeated questions by journalists about the president’s position on the issue, White House officials reached out to ABC News late Tuesday night to arrange the Wednesday afternoon interview at the White House.
In the interview, Mr. Obama spoke about how his views about same-sex marriage have changed over the years, in part because of prodding from friends who are gay.
“I had hesitated on gay marriage in part because I thought that civil unions would be sufficient,” Mr. Obama told Ms. Roberts. “I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people, the word marriage was something that invokes very powerful traditions and religious beliefs.”
But he added that “I’ve always been adamant that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly and equally.”
The hastily-arranged interview gave Mr. Obama another opportunity to clarify what he has called his “evolving” position on a social issue that continues to sharply divide the American public.
In 2010, Mr. Obama said that his long-standing opposition to the idea of same-sex marriages has been changing. But he has refused to say since then whether he now supports extending the rights and privileges of marriage to same-sex couples.
“My feelings about this are constantly evolving,” he said two years ago. “I struggle with this. I have friends, I have people who work for me who are in powerful, strong, long-lasting gay or lesbian unions. And they are extraordinary people. And this is something that means a lot to them and they care deeply about.”
The effort by the White House to set up the interview comes after several days of intense pressure on Mr. Obama following comments in support of gay marriage by Vice President Joe Biden and Arne Duncan, the secretary of education.
ABC secured the interview with Mr. Obama on Tuesday afternoon, according to two people involved in the planning. It will take place at the White House. The interview was so hastily arranged, in fact, that Ms. Roberts was still in New York on Wednesday morning to co-host “Good Morning America”– and was planning on returning to New York right after the interview, because her mother is visiting and the two have dinner plans on Wednesday evening.
Brian Stelter contributed to this post.
This article, "Obama Backs Same-Sex Marriage," originally appears at the New York Times News Service.