President Barack Obama endorsed gay marriage on Wednesday at the end of an "evolution" in his position on the issue.
In an interview with ABC News' Robin Roberts, Obama said "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."
Obama was pressured into making the announcement after Vice President Joe Biden expressed support for same sex marriage on Sunday.
"I had hesitated on gay marriage in party I thought civil unions would be sufficient, something that would give people hospital visitation rights and other things we take for granted," Obama explained. "And I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people the word marriage was something that evokes very powerful traditions, religious beliefs, and so forth."
Obama told Roberts that the First Lady feels the same way as he does.
“This is something that, you know, we’ve talked about over the years and she, you know, she feels the same way, she feels the same way that I do," he said.
Obama cited the military as a major reason for his conversion on the issue: "I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained," he said.
Gay groups welcomed the news and cast it in historic terms.
“Today, President Obama made history by boldly stating that gay and lesbian Americans should be fully and equally part of the fabric of American society and that our families deserve nothing less than the equal respect and recognition that comes through marriage," Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said in a statement.
His presidency has shown that our nation can move beyond its shameful history of discrimination and injustice. In him, millions of young Americans have seen that their futures will not be limited by what makes them different. In supporting marriage equality, President Obama extends that message of hope to a generation of young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, helping them understand that they too can be who they are and flourish as part of the American community. And his words remind gay and lesbian families across the country, who, like their neighbors, struggle to afford healthcare and college for their kids, pay their taxes and plan for retirement –but with the added burden of discrimination— that they do not face those challenges alone and unheard.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg called Obama's announcement a "major turning point in the history of American civil rights."
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. The march of freedom that has sustained our country since the Revolution of 1776 continues, and no matter what setbacks may occur in a given state, freedom will triumph over fear and equality will prevail over exclusion. Today’s announcement is a testament to the President’s convictions, and it builds on the courageous stands that so many Americans have taken over the years on behalf of equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans, stretching back to the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village.