Editor’s Note: On May 9, 2012, ABC News’ Robin Roberts interviewed President Obama and during that interview he stated for the first time that he now supports same-sex marriage. Below is a small portion of that history-making interview and his thoughts on equal rights and related legal issues.
ROBIN ROBERTS: Good to see you, as always—
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good to see you, Robin.
ROBIN ROBERTS: Mr. President. Thank you for this opportunity to talk to you about— various issues. And it’s been quite a week and it’s only Wednesday.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: That’s typical of my week.
ROBIN ROBERTS: I’m sure it is. One of the hot button issues because of things that have been said by members of your administration, same-sex marriage. In fact, your press secretary yesterday said he would leave it to you to discuss your personal views on that. So Mr. President, are you still opposed to same-sex marriage?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well— you know, I have to tell you, as I’ve said, I’ve—I’ve been going through an evolution on this issue. I’ve always been adamant that— gay and lesbian—Americans should be treated fairly and equally. And that’s why in addition to everything we’ve done in this administration, rolling back Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell—so that—you know, outstanding Americans can serve our country. Whether it’s no longer defending the Defense Against Marriage Act, which— tried to federalize—what is historically been state law.
I’ve stood on the side of broader equality for—the L.G.B.T. community. And I had hesitated on gay marriage—in part, because I thought civil unions would be sufficient. That that was something that would give people hospital visitation rights and—other—elements that we take for granted. And—I was sensitive to the fact that—for a lot of people, you know, the—the word marriage was something that evokes very powerful traditions, religious beliefs, and so forth.
But I have to tell you that over the course of—several years, as I talk to friends and family and neighbors. When I think about—members of my own staff who are incredibly committed, in monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together. When I think about—those soldiers or airmen or marines or—sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf—and yet, feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is gone, because—they’re not able to—commit themselves in a marriage.
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. Now—I have to tell you that part of my hesitation on this has also been I didn’t want to nationalize the issue. There’s a tendency when I weigh in to think suddenly it becomes political and it becomes polarized.
And what you’re seeing is, I think, states working through this issue—in fits and starts, all across the country. Different communities are arriving at different conclusions, at different times. And I think that’s a healthy process and a healthy debate. And I continue to believe that this is an issue that is gonna be worked out at the local level, because historically, this has not been a federal issue, what’s recognized as a marriage.
ROBIN ROBERTS: Well, Mr. President, it’s— it’s not being worked out on the state level. We saw that Tuesday in North Carolina, the 30th state to announce its ban on gay marriage.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well— well— well, what I’m saying is is that different states are coming to different conclusions. But this debate is taking place— at a local level. And I think the whole country is evolving and changing. And— you know, one of the things that I’d like to see is— that a conversation continue in a respectful way.
I think it’s important to recognize that— folks— who— feel very strongly that marriage should be defined narrowly as— between a man and a woman— many of them are not coming at it from a mean-spirited perspective. They’re coming at it because they care about families. And— they— they have a different understanding, in terms of— you know, what the word “marriage” should mean. And I— a bunch of ‘em are friends of mine— you know, pastors and— you know, people who— I deeply respect. ■