May 9th, 2012
07:15 PM ET
(CNN) – Was the president planning on publicly expressing support for same-sex marriage before the election? It depends who you ask.
One senior administration official tells CNN President Obama’s advisors were deeply divided over whether it was prudent to make a public statement on the matter before voters weigh in next November.
That administration official added the president’s advisors did not feel he needed to make public remarks on the issue until Vice President Joe Biden expressed support of same-sex marriage over the weekend, touching off a renewed focus on the president’s continued hedging on the matter. Before today, the president has long maintained he believes in equal rights for same-sex couples but was continuing to ‘evolve’ on whether full marriage rights should be extended to them.
But other senior administration officials contend the president came to support same-sex marriage a few months ago and was planning to speak out in support of it before the Democratic National Convention in late summer and it was just a matter of when the right time would be. These officials say Biden’s comments simply expedited that timeline.
A top Democratic source told CNN one factor that tipped the decision in favor of speaking out: there was going to be a fight over whether same-sex marriage should be adopted among the party’s planks at the convention and Biden’s remarks added early fuel to the fire.
Senior administration officials also tell CNN same-sex marriage will by no means be a cornerstone of his campaign in part because he is not pushing any legislation. In his comments with ABC Wednesday, the president said that he continues to believe the issue of same-sex marriage should be dealt with at the state level. He emphasized that he was sharing his personal views.
A senior administration official tells CNN First Lady Michelle Obama was deeply influential in this decision. The official said the president discussed his decision with Mrs. Obama who shared the view he should speak out in support of same sex marriage.
After the interview the White House Director of the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships sent faith leaders an email emphasizing that the President said that he still considers the question of legalizing marriage a local issue. The email quotes the President telling ABC News: “I want to emphasize that I’ve got a lot of friends on the other side of this issue and I’m sure they’ll be calling me up. And I respect them and I understand their perspective in part because their impulse is the right one, which is they want to preserve and strengthen families.”
As for the politics of today’s announcement, senior administration officials say they haven’t entirely thought through the implications of how this may affect the election. Though they assume a healthy majority of voters likely already believed the president privately supported gay marriage as it’s a position that is tied to the Democratic Party as a whole.
Moreover, these administration officials made clear if presumptive presidential rival Mitt Romney attempts to make an issue of this, the Obama campaign is ready to point to the issue as one more example of what they consider to be the former Massachusetts governor’s extreme views. Romney said earlier Tuesday he continues to oppose same-sex marriage and civil unions. He’s also backed a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman, a proposal that has ginned up support with social conservatives in previous elections.