NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Nearly one year after New York became the sixth state in the U.S. to legally recognize same-sex marriage, President Barack Obama announced his support for marriage equality and solidified a position that has been in flux for many years.
In excerpts from an exclusive interview with ABC's Robin Roberts to air Thursday, President Obama said, "For me personally, it is important for me to affirm that I think same-sex couples should be allowed to get married."
Obama added, "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."
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With Obama taking a position on the hot-button issue, the president's comments elicited mixed reaction from politicians, religious leaders and voters.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan called the announcement "deeply saddening," saying it would "undermine the institution of marriage, the very cornerstone of our society."
The president of the Catholic League, Bill Donohue, also blasted the president.
"I congratulate President Obama for finally telling the truth and stop with the camouflaging. We know he loves the idea of two men getting married," Donohue said.
However, the former president of New York's Board of Rabbis said it was about time the president said something.
"We are thrilled with the president's decision," Rabbi Robert Levine told CBS 2's Dave Carlin. "I think it's a great day. Justice has been served."
Meanwhile, Rev. Calvin Butts said the president's announcement goes against what his Abyssinian Baptist Church teaches, but despite that he said "The people who attend this church will not be condemnatory. I don't think they will be judgmental."
PARTISAN DIVIDE FOR SAME-SEX SUPPORT
The President's remarks come as a Gallup poll shows half the country (50 percent) believes same-sex marriages should be recognized by law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages.
But pundits said that for the president to support same-sex marriage in the heat of a presidential campaign with bitter partisan divides is a calculated risk. It could get younger voters to the polls, but cost him support in heavily Catholic swing states.
"In the conservative Midwest states he needs to win -- western Pennsylvania, Ohio may become even more battleground areas," political analyst Hank Sheinkopf told CBS 2's Marcia Kramer.
A recent Gallup poll breaks down the numbers like this:
- 65 percent of Democrats say same-sex marriage should be legal; 34 percent say no.
- Only 22 percent of Republicans favor legalizing same-sex marriage; 74 percent are opposed.
- 57 percent of independents support legalizing same-sex marriage; 40 percent say no.
The president's move will immediately occupy much of the air in Campaign 2012.
MITT ROMNEY'S STANCE ON THE ISSUE
Everyone from Mayor Michael Bloomberg to political pundits to Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who reiterated his opposition on the "sensitive topic," weighed in on the bombshell dropped by the president.
When he was governor, Romney fought his state's highest court when Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriage in 2004.
"States are able to make decisions with regards to domestic partnership benefits, such as hospital visitation rights, benefits and so forth of various kinds could be determined state by state. But my view is that marriage itself is a relationship between a man and a woman," Romney said.
"Politics and morals at the same time -- good combination. He needs the vote, he needs the youth excited, he needs the dough that the gay community will bring and he needs to win in states where gay marriage is supported. He's going to pay a price for it, too, in more conservative parts of the country -- that's to be seen," Sheinkopf said.
REACTION POURS IN FROM LOCAL OFFICIALS
Reaction poured in from local elected officials with many striking a positive tone.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn is marrying her partner, Kim, a week from Saturday. She is ecstatic about the president's stance.
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"This is a historic day," she told reporters, including WCBS 880's Rich Lamb. "This day, the day where the President of the United States made a statement that every family is equal, that every home is equal, that every union is equal, will be seen as a critical moment -- the turning point."
Quinn said Obama's comments made her feel as if the president reached out and put his arms around her and around all gay people and saying "You're as good as anybody else."
"It makes you stand a little taller. It makes you carry your head a little higher. It makes you feel better about who you are and it makes you feel more hopeful about the promise and the hope of this country," Quinn said.
Last June, after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the same-sex marriage into law, gay and lesbian couples were allow to legally wed in New York one month later, July 24, the day the law went into effect.
"I think his voice will give people yet another reason to analyze this issue and be open to the issue. I think it's an exciting development," Cuomo said.
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"This is a major turning point in the history of American civil rights," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "No American president has ever supported a major expansion of civil rights that has not ultimately been adopted by the American people – and I have no doubt that this will be no exception."
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand applauded the President's comments, saying his support marked a "watershed moment in American history that will provide the leadership needed to finally repeal [The Defense of Marriage Act]."
Congressman Jerrold Nadler was also quick to applaud the president's announcement.
"For the first time in this nation's history, a sitting president has shown the courage and leadership to stand up for all American families by pledging to support the fundamental right of every person to marry the person they love, and to have that marriage fully respected," Nadler said.
Queens City Council member Jimmy Van Bramer also released a statement supporting what President Obama had to say: "The President today affirmed what is best about Democracy -- that we can still find leaders capable of doing what is right, even when faced with opposition that can seem daunting."
Garden State Equality Chair Steven Goldstein said he was "overwhelmed with tears of joy."
"We will remember for the rest of our lives where we were when we heard the sitting President of the United States say he supports marriage equality," he said.
The announcement came a day after voters in North Carolina approved a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as solely between a man and a woman. North Carolina became the 30th state to ban same-sex marriage.
Same-sex marriage is legal in six states -- New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Iowa and New Hampshire -- plus the District of Columbia.
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