Nightly News | May 09, 2012
WILLIAMS: Good evening.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: President Barack Obama today became the first American president to say he approves of same-sex marriage . He says his position has evolved, he now personally supports it, but he adds it's up to the states to decide. Many of the states have already spoken and a lot more states outlaw same-sex marriage than those that allow it. Public acceptance of it has risen sharply in the last decade, but still it's an issue where the country is now evenly split. And now it takes its place alongside jobs and the economy among the issues that'll be fought over all the way to November. We begin our coverage tonight with our chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd . Chuck , good evening.
CHUCK TODD reporting: Good evening, Brian . You know, according to aides President Obama had expressed to them that he had changed his views on gay marriage a couple months ago and was looking for a way to go public with that changed view sometime before this September's Democratic convention . That said, aides admit this was not the week they had planned on going public, but because of Vice President Biden 's comments on " Meet the Press ," it expedited things.
President BARACK OBAMA: I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.
TODD: President Obama , who said 18 months ago his views on gay marriage were evolving, told ABC News today that evolution became complete after multiple conversations with his wife and two daughters.
Pres. OBAMA: You know, Malia and Sasha , they've got friends whose parents are same-sex couples. And I -- you know, there have been times where Michelle and I have been sitting around the dinner table and we've been talking and -- about their friends and their parents, and Malia and Sasha would -- 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 of perspective. I had hesitated on gay marriage in part because I thought civil unions would be sufficient, and I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people, you know, the word " marriage " was something that evokes very powerful traditions, religious beliefs and so forth.
TODD: The president still believes marriage is an issue for states to decide and aides said there is not any federal action in the works. This announcement comes a day after a major presidential battleground state , North Carolina , overwhelmingly voted to amend the state's Constitution , banning gay marriage and civil unions . The president sped up his timetable after Vice President Biden said this on " Meet the Press " Sunday.
Vice President JOE BIDEN: I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men and women marrying one another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights , all of the civil liberties .
TODD: Over the last eight years, the president has struggled publicly with the issue. In 2004 as a Senate candidate he was against gay marriage , invoking his religion.
Mr. BARACK OBAMA: We have a set of traditions in place that I think need to be preserved. But I also think that we have to make sure that gays and lesbians have the same set of basic rights that are in place.
TODD: In his 2006 book " Audacity of Hope " then Senator Obama openly wondered if he was going to be seen as behind the times. He wrote, "In years hence, I may be seen as someone who was on the wrong side of history." It's unclear how this issue will play in the presidential race. Gay rights advocates were ecstatic.
Unidentified Man: I have gotten text messages from people all across this country, from members of HRC , from people I haven't heard from in a very long time, from my husband. So it's been -- it's been inspiring, and it's been very emotional.
TODD: And leading social conservatives believe it will help Mitt Romney .
Mr. TONY PERKINS (Family Research Council): His statement that he supports same-sex marriage goes a long way in addressing the intensity issue that Mitt Romney was facing with social conservatives .
TODD: Romney , who favors a federal constitutional amendment to ban gay
marriage, said this today: My view is that marriage itself is a relationship between a man and a woman , and that's my own preference. I know other people have differing views. This is a tender and sensitive topic.
Former Governor MITT ROMNEY: You know, this is not the first time that Mr. Obama has come out for gay marriage . When he was a candidate for the state Senate in 1996 he filled out a questionnaire claiming he was in favor of same-sex marriage but when he ran for the US Senate 2004 , Brian , he had switched his position.
TODD: All right, Chuck Todd at the White House starting us off. Chuck , thanks. And as