Biden's remark hastened Obama's gay marriage timetable

WASHINGTON Wed May 9, 2012 8:40pm EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Earlier this year, President Barack Obama's evolution on gay marriage finally concluded.

The president, who had described his views on the topic as evolving for some time, decided he would express his support publicly for the right of same-gender couples to wed, and he planned to do so before the Democratic National Convention in early September.

Then Vice President Joe Biden declared in an interview with NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday that he was "absolutely comfortable" with men marrying men and women marrying women.

The spotlight turned to Obama, and it was time to change the plan.

Biden taped his interview on Friday, so Obama's advisers were aware of his remarks for two days before they aired and were prepared for a frenzied reaction, senior administration officials told reporters.

The president was not upset with his No. 2 for speaking out of turn, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The frenzied reaction grew on Monday.

White House press secretary Jay Carney was grilled repeatedly by reporters about where Obama stood on gay marriage. The issue crowded out economic and foreign policy questions and dominated the airwaves.

So on Tuesday, the White House scheduled an interview with Robin Roberts of ABC for the next day. The president announced his change of position in the interview, portions of which were aired Wednesday afternoon.

"I think same-sex couples should be able to get married," Obama said.

His announcement closed a process that had been years in the making and reflected changing views among Americans. Polls indicate that a rising number of Americans - more than 39 percent in a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll - favor allowing same-sex marriage.

The decision was both personal and political. A former state legislator in Illinois, Obama put himself in the shoes of states that were discussing laws about gay marriage and thought about how he would vote, the senior administration officials said.

The president had discussed his position with about six or seven top aides and the officials denied that there was any division about the topic among his close advisers.

No constituency groups were notified before ABC aired Obama's remarks.

Obama noted in the interview that he still supported the concept of states deciding how marriage should be defined. The president's position was personal and the White House was not proposing federal legislation, officials stressed.

Asked whether this could dent Obama's support with African-Americans, many of whom oppose gay marriage, the officials said they did not expect that it would cause black voters to support Republican Mitt Romney. African Americans overwhelmingly support Obama, the country's first black president.

The president believed it was important to respect people who had differing views on this issue, but the pace of American support for gay marriage has been unprecedented, the officials noted. Although it took him longer to evolve than some in the gay community had hoped, the president was a leader on gay rights, they said.

(Editing by David Lindsey and Philip Barbara)

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