May 9, 2012 | by Chris Johnson
Obama changed his mind on marriage months ago: officials

President Obama reached the conclusion that same-sex couples should be able to legally marry months before he made his announcement Wednesday, according to senior administration officials who spoke to the Blade.

Obama came to the new position supporting same-sex marriage several months ago and planned to make an announcement before the Democratic National Convention takes place this fall. Officials couldn’t point to an exact day when the president finished evolving, but said it was sometime in the last few months.

Obama didn’t plan to make the announcement this week, but after the explosion of attention to the issue following Vice President Joe Biden’s remarks in favor of same-sex marriage on Sunday, the White House decided to make the completed evolution public.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they wanted the president to be out front announcing his support for same-sex marriage.

Whether Obama will be involved in legislative efforts to advance same-sex marriage in the future — such as a potential effort next year in Illinois, which he represented in the U.S. Senate — is hard to predict. Officials said Obama continues to believe marriage is a states issue.

The announcement came the day after North Carolina voted in favor of a sweeping anti-gay amendment barring same-sex marriage and threatening domestic partner benefits. Officials pointed to a statement the campaign issued decrying the measure and said the timing of Obama’s announcement shouldn’t diminish its historic nature.

Officials said Obama would vote to uphold and advance marriage equality in states like Maine, Washington and Maryland — where voters will face or will likely face the issue at the polls this fall — but maintained the president isn’t launching a national marriage equality campaign with his announcement, and marriage hasn’t become the No. 1 issue in the presidential election.

They said it’s unclear whether Obama will face political backlash in battleground states like Ohio and Pennsylvania as a result of his support, but acknowledged it might help and hurt him with some voters.

Officials wouldn’t say whether Obama backs the idea of including an endorsement of same-sex marriage in the Democratic Party platform, which the platform committee will hammer out this fall, but said the announcement may simplify that process.

Additionally, officials said the endorsement of marriage has no impact on the decision not to issue at this time an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers.

They also wouldn’t say whether Obama’s new position means he would sign marriage legislation legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the country if it reached his desk, saying Congress is unlikely to pass such a bill anytime soon and Obama believes marriage remains an issue for states to decide.

Obama is arguably returning to a position on marriage he held in 1996. While running for a seat in the Illinois state Senate, Obama said in a questionnaire response to what is now the Windy City Times that he supports same-sex marriage, writing, “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.”

The officials declined to comment on the 16-year-old questionnaire response, but reiterated that Obama has been evolving on the issue and now personally supports same-sex marriage.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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