Obama capitalizes on new endorsement of gay marriage

By Steven R. Hurst, AP

WASHINGTON–President Barack Obama’s campaign moved quickly Thursday to capitalize on his newly announced support for gay marriage, releasing an Internet video that calls his Republican challenger backward on the highly divisive social issue.

Obama broke from his long-claimed indecision on the issue to express outright support for the right of homosexual couples to marry, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to say so publicly. He spoke during an ABC television interview Wednesday after days of growing pressure that started when his own vice president declared his support for gay marriage over the weekend.

On Thursday morning, Obama’s campaign released an Internet video titled “Mitt Romney: Backwards on Equality.”

It opens with Obama saying same-sex couples should have the right to marry, then shows a clip of Romney saying Wednesday that he opposes gay marriage and favors rolling back some rights for same-sex couples.

The video also seeks to portray Romney as out of touch with the majority of Americans, saying even former Republican President George W. Bush supported civil unions, a step short of marriage.

Obama aides hope the president’s support of gay marriage will energize Democrats, particularly younger voters, though they acknowledge the issue could hurt him with socially conservative independent voters.

Obama’s changed stand on gay marriage will, however, find a welcome audience Thursday night in Hollywood. He will speak to the gala event of the political season — a sold-out, record-setting fundraiser at the home of movie star George Clooney.

The event is a blockbuster confluence of high celebrity, big money and committed activism. Hollywood is home to some of the most high-profile backers of gay marriage, and the dinner is expected to raise nearly US$15 million — an unprecedented amount for a single event. In a single evening, the Obama camp and the Democratic Party will collect more than Romney has amassed in his best single month of fundraising.

Obama will also hold fundraisers earlier in the day in Seattle, where he was expected to collect at least US$3 million toward his re-election effort.

Obama’s support of gay marriage will find huge support in yet another fundraiser Monday in New York sponsored by gay and Latino Obama supporters.

“I have hesitated on gay marriage in part because I thought that civil unions would be sufficient,” Obama said in Wednesday’s interview. But he added that now, “it is important for me personally to go ahead and affirm that same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

He conceded that Vice President Joe Biden forced his hand on the issue Sunday by saying in a nationally televised interview that he was “absolutely comfortable” with gay marriage, but Obama said, “All’s well that ends well.”

Obama said he had planned to announce his support for gay marriage before the Democratic Party’s convention in early September, and he acknowledged he would have preferred to have “done this in my own way, on my own terms without, I think, there being a lot of notice” beforehand.