NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Americans are reacting with joy, scorn and indifference after President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to endorse equal marriage rights for same-sex couples.
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"It is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married," Obama said in an interview with ABC.
Obama doesn't have the power to make same-sex marriage legal. But by taking a stand, he closed the loop with gay-rights activists who are important financiers and supporters of his re-election campaign while putting himself on a potentially perilous path with voters in states such as North Carolina.
That state backed him in 2008 but voted solidly Tuesday to ban gay marriage in the state constitution. And it hosts the Democratic National Convention in September.
The president's comments have elicited mixed reaction from politicians, religious leaders and voters.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo applauded the president's courage on the issue.
"I think when the president stands up and makes this statement, it will now resonate all across this nation," he said. "Consistency is nice, but evolution can be smarter and, sometimes, we should revisit an issue because times change and societies change."
Steven Goldstein of Garden State Equality said he hopes the president is heard loud and clear in Trenton.
"Chris Christie used to tell me and everyone else, 'Listen I'm against marriage equality, but so is the president, so why are you going after me?' Governor Christie can't say that anymore," said Goldstein.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is planning her own same-sex wedding this month, called it "an important step towards full equality."
But Cardinal Timothy Dolan called Obama's support for gay marriage "deeply saddening," saying "it would undermine the institution of marriage."
Polls show Americans are evenly split on the issue. According to a Pew Research Center poll, 47 percent of voters support it while 43 percent are against gay marriage.
Obama's comments Wednesday are resulting in many debating the human and societal implications of the statement and the political fallout for Obama this election year.
"The risk is huge," said political analyst Hank Sheinkopf. "It is a calculated political decision."
"It had to do about with who he is, what he stands for, what he believes, what he thinks is right for America, our families, our values and our faith in the future. Anything about the politics is incidental," added House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Obama's campaign, meanwhile, is using his support of gay marriage to draw a contrast with Republican rival Mitt Romney.
After the president's announcement, Romney responded saying, "My view is that marriage itself is between a man and a woman."
But the morning after Obama publicly embraced same-sex marriage, his campaign released a web video titled "Mitt Romney: Backwards on Equality.''
The video opens with Obama saying same-sex couples should be allowed to get married, followed by a clip of Romney saying Wednesday that he opposes gay marriage and favors rolling back some rights for same-sex couples.
The video also tries to portray Romney as out of touch with the majority of Americans, saying even former Republican President George W. Bush supported civil unions.
However, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani went on CBS This Morning on Thursday and said he doesn't buy the Obama tactic, CBS 2's Chris Wragge reported.
"Maybe in this sense, it helps Romney because it takes that issue out of the election. It can be hard for Obama to criticize him for being a shifter on positions when this is a major shift," Giuliani said.
Obama aides hope Obama's support of gay marriage will energize Democrats, though they acknowledge the divisive social issue could hurt the president with socially conservative independent voters.
"I think it will energize all those evangelical Christians who were nervous about voting for a Mormon," syndicated radio talk show host Dennis Prager said.
"The president and the Democrats can talk about this all they want, but the fact is the American people are focused on our economy and they're asking the question: where are the jobs?" House Speaker John Boehner said.
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