President Barack Obama picked the day after a decisive vote in North Carolina to announce that his "evolution" on the issue of same-sex marriage was complete—he now supports it.
In an interview with ABC News on Wednesday, Obama said:
I have to tell you that over the course of several years, as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors, when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed 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 are 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.
Maryland is one of as many as four states that could put the issue in front of voters this fall, ABC News reports, but it's unclear how much impact the president's endorsement will have.
The Maryland General Assembly passed same-sex marriage legislation in February. The bill does not take effect until Jan. 1, which gave opponents time to gather petitions required to send the bill to referendum in November's general election.
ABC broadcasted a special report with clips from the interview just before 3 p.m. Wednesday. The full interview with Obama is scheduled to air on "Good Morning America" on May 10.
North Carolinians voted overwhelmingly to amend that state's constitution to outlaw same-sex marriages and civil unions on Tuesday.
Amy Becker, an assistant professor of communication at Towson University, said most observers expected Obama to make this announcement after the November election.
But his hand may have been forced, she said, by Vice President Joe Biden, who on NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday described himself as "absolutely comfortable" with same-sex marriage. On Monday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan also came out in favor of same-sex marriage.
The president's stance is now front and center in an election year. In contrast, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Obama's presumptive Republican challenger, publicly opposes same-sex marriage.
"The Republicans are going to pick up and run with this and a lot of people in the news media are going to speculate about what this means for the presidential race," Becker said. "While a lot of people argue it's the right move, it might not be the safest move, politically."
Within minutes of the ABC News report, Gov. Martin O'Malley issued a statement saying that Obama "affirmed that for a people of many different faiths—a people who are committed to the principle of religious freedom—the way forward is always to be found through greater respect for the equal rights and human dignity of all."
In a separate statement, Josh Levin, director of Marylanders for Marriage Equality, said his group was "delighted" with the momentum today's news would bring to his campaign.
“His announcement is especially important to our coalition and to the thousands of couples and families in Maryland who are working to ensure the Civil Marriage Protection Act is upheld this November," he said.
Maryland Marriage Alliance, the group leading the effort to petition the law to referendum, did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment. However, The Washington Post reported last week that the group had received more than 30,000 signatures on a petition to send the law to referendum.
Counting Tuesday's vote in North Carolina, voters in 32 states have voted against same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage is currently legal in six states and Washington, D.C.
However, statistics show the tide appears to be turning, locally and nationally. A Pew Research Center study found that 43 percent of Americans now support allowing same-sex couples to marry, up from 37 percent in 2009. A Washington Post poll conducted earlier this year found that 50 percent of Marylanders support same-sex marriage, while 44 percent oppose it.
Becker said analysts should be "cautious" in predicting the impact of the president's announcement, but that turnout among youth and church-going African-Americans will be key for both sides. According to the Pew study, 63 percent of people born in 1981 or later support same-sex marriage. But support slips to just 33 percent among black protestants and 14 percent among white evangelicals.
"I do think it's going to be really close, and there are a lot of folks in Maryland that are not in favor of this," Becker said.