WASHINGTON (CBSDC) — President Obama says “I do” to same-sex marriage.

After saying for his views on gay marriage were “evolving,” Obama’s evolution reached a conclusion after finally saying that same-sex marriage should be legalized.

“I hesitated on gay marriage in part because I thought civil unions would be sufficient,” Obama told ABC News. “I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people the word ‘marriage’ was something that invokes very powerful traditions, religious beliefs and so forth.”

In recent days, the issue has started to roil the presidential race. The White House has been inundated with questions about the president’s position. And GOP rival Mitt Romney — who has an inconsistent record on gayrights but long has been opposed to same-sex marriage — trying to sidestep the matter at a time when most Americans say they support gay unions.

“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,” Obama told ABC News. President Obama has repealed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy which banned gays from serving and has also asked the Justice Department not to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act which says marriage is only between a man and a woman.

Obama spoke about his support for gay marriage in deeply personal terms, saying his young daughters, Malia and Sasha, have friends whose parents are same-sex couples.

“Malia and Sasha, it wouldn’t dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated different,” Obama said. “It doesn’t make sense to them and frankly, that’s the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective.”

Obama said his wife Michelle Obama was also involved in his decision and joins him in supporting gay marriage.

“In the end the values that I care most deeply about and she cares most deeply about is how we treat other people,” he said.

Public opinion on gay marriage has shifted in recent years, with most polls now finding the public tilting in favor of legal same-sex marriages.

A Gallup poll released this week found 50 percent of all adults in favor of legal recognition of same-sex marriages, marking the second time that poll has found support for legal gay marriage at 50 percent or higher. Majorities of Democrats (65 percent) and independents (57 percent) supported such recognition, while most Republicans (74 percent) said same sex marriages should not be legal.

Six states — all in the Northeast except Iowa — and the District of Columbia allow same sex marriages. In addition, two other states have laws that are not yet in effect and may be subject to referendums.

Yet, illustrating how politically tricky the issue is, North Carolina on Tuesday became the 30th state to pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

Romney was treading carefully as the hot-button issue re-emerged in the campaign. He favors a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, saying the policy should be set federally, not by states. But some conservatives question Romney’s record on gay rights issues and point to his assertion in a 1994 Senate campaign that he supports “full equality” for gays and lesbians.

On Wednesday, he told KDVR-TV in Denver that “I do not favor marriage between people of the same gender, and I do not favor civil unions if they are identical to marriage other than by name. My view is the domestic partnership benefits, hospital visitation rights, and the like are appropriate but that the others are not.”

The Romney campaign did not respond to questions about which benefits the Republican candidate would oppose.

The former Massachusetts governor told an Ohio television station Monday that he believes “marriage is between a man and a woman, and that’s a position I’ve had for some time and I don’t intend to make any adjustments at this point — or ever, by the way.”

(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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