President Obama framed Friday's Supreme Court's decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide as a "victory for America" -- the latest advance in a fight for equality that has spanned decades.
"Progress on this journey often comes in small increments. Sometimes two steps forward, one step back, compelled by the persistent effort of dedicated citizens," Mr. Obama said in a brief statement from the Rose Garden. "And then sometimes there are days like this, when that slow, steady effort is rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt."
"This morning, the Supreme Court recognized that the Constitution guarantees marriage equality," the president added. "In doing so, they have reaffirmed that all Americans are entitled to the equal protection of the law; that all people should be treated equally, regardless of who they are or who they love."
In a 5-4 decision, the justices ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution guarantees same-sex couples equal protection under the law, including the right to marriage, no matter where they live. The court also ruled that states must recognize same-sex unions performed in other states.
"In my second inaugural address, I said that if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. It is gratifying to see that principle enshrined into law by this decision," the president said. "This ruling is a victory for Jim Obergefell and the other plaintiffs in the case. It's a victory for gay and lesbian couples who have so long for their basic civil rights. It's a victory for their children, whose families will now be recognized as equal to any other. It's a victory for the allies and friends and supporters who spent years, even decades working and praying for change to come."
The president, who affirmed his own support for same-sex marriage in 2012, noted the numerous steps his administration has taken to secure equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.
He cited his decision to end the Justice Department's defense of the "Defense of Marriage Act," a 1996 law forbidding same-sex marriage at the federal level that was struck down in 2013. He also noted the end of the Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell policy that barred gay people in the military from openly acknowledging their sexuality, and his administration's decision to extend marital benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.
"We've made real progress in advancing equality for LGBT Americans in ways that were unimaginable not too long ago," Mr. Obama said. "I know a change for many of our LGBT brothers and sisters must have seemed so slow for so long. But compared to so many other issues, America's shift has been so quick."
America's shift on same-sex marriage has, indeed, been a rapid one. The state-by-state expansion of marriage rights took off at an incredible pace after the 2013 decision that struck down the "Defense of Marriage Act." And public opinion, too, has rapidly moved in favor of marriage equality for gay couples. Of the 57 percent of Americans who said in a CBS News poll this week that same-sex marriage should be legal, 30 percent said they once held the opposite view. In July 2012, Americans were more evenly divided: 46 percent said same-sex marriage should be legal, while 44 percent disagreed.
The president, in his statement on Friday, urged respect for the opponents of same-sex marriage whose views are "based on sincere and deeply held beliefs."
"All of us who welcome today's news should be mindful of that fact and recognize different viewpoints, revere our deep commitment to religious freedom," he said.
"There is so much more work to be done to extend the full promise of America to every American. But today, we can say in no uncertain terms that we've made our union a little more perfect," the president said. "That's the consequence of a decision from the Supreme Court, but more importantly, it is a consequence of the countless small acts of courage of millions of people across decades who stood up, who came out, talked to parents, parents who loved their children no matter what, folks who were willing to endure bullying and taunts, and stayed strong, and came to believe in themselves and who they were, and slowly made an entire country realize that love is love."
"What an extraordinary achievement, but what a vindication of the belief that ordinary people can do extraordinary things," he concluded. "Those countless, often anonymous heroes, they deserve our thanks. They should be very proud. America should be very proud."