President Obama voiced support for gay marriage during a television interview at the White House Wednesday, a reversal on a stance that had come under scrutiny over the past few days.
Obama told ABC News' Robin Roberts that while he still supports states' right to decide the issue for themselves, he personally supports the concept.
"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," Obama told Roberts. The interview, which was first made public by ABC News Wednesday afternoon, will also be aired during ABC World News in the evevning and Thursday on Good Morning America.
The announcement caps a week of renewed interest in the topic, kicked off by Vice President Joe Biden's comments Sunday in support of same-sex marriage, followed by Tuesday vote in North Carolina, which resulted in support for a ban on such unions. In between the incidents, White House press officials and Obama campaign advisers endured vigorous questioning from reporters on where exactly the president stood.
In his last official statement on the subject, made in 2010, Obama said he was "evolving" on the issue, while still not supporting gay marriage.
Obama's announcement also places him opposite his Republican rival Mitt Romney, who re-affirmed his position against gay marriage Thursday when he spoke with a local Denver television statio.
"My position is the same on gay marriage as it's been for from the beginning, and that is that marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman," Romney told a reporter for CBS Denver.
When asked about his support for domestic partnerships of civil unions, Romney tried to clarify his position.
"If a civil union is identical to marriage other than with the name, why, I don't support that," he said. "But I certainly recognize that hospital visitation rights and benefits of that nature may well be appropriate and states are able to make a provision for the determination of those kinds of rights as well as benefits that might accrue to state workers."
Andy Smith, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire, says Obama's re-election campaign may benefit from the revelation in some swing states and less so in others, such as North Carolina.
"In most of the battleground states, this is probably not going to be that big of an issue," he says. "North Carolina, obviously, I think it will be, Virginia, probably, Florida, yes – but say, Ohio, New Hampshire and Iowa, it probably won't."
The benefit for Obama will be in the enthusiasm it generates among supporters who may be disaffected or disappointed with his time in office, Smith says.
"In this case, it's not so much a matter of whether or not this issue is going to make you support the president or not, it's going to make a difference in whether you get out and vote or not," Smith says. "The bigger issue facing Democrats is motivating their base, to get their base excited behind them again, like they had in 2008, and I don't think that they've got that right now."
Polling in New Hampshire, which legalized gay marriage in 2010, has shown "incrementally increasing" support for it over the past 10 years, Smith says.
"Once it was legalized a couple years back, we asked if voters wanted it repeal and a majority don't want it repealed," Smith adds. "The other reason it would probably help him here is that the people that are most earnest or most excited in their opinion are supporters of gay marriage. They really want it to stay legal, whereas opponents of gay marriage are somewhat indifferent, frankly. It doesn't bother them too much."
Smith also points out that gay marriage is not as much a partisan issue as a religious one.
"With the exception of Iowa, if you look at the states that have legalized gay marriage, they are some of the least religious states in the country," he says. States that have legally sanctioned gay marriage are New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Connecticut, Iowa and Massachusetts. Washington and Maryland have passed laws allowing it that are facing voter approval in the fall and in Maine voters will also weigh in on a citizens' initiative to legalize it.