President Barack Obama says it is "hard to say" whether his new stance supporting same sex marriage will hurt his re-election. He says there's a major difference between himself and Republican challenger Mitt Romney on the issue, but says the economy will ultimately determine the outcome of the election.
Obama made his remarks during a discussion on ABC's "The View," a daytime talk show. That interview will air later Tuesday, but ABC broadcast an excerpt on "Good Morning America."
He said churches should have the right to make their own determinations about marriage. But he said that as a matter of civil law, all Americans should be treated equally.
Obama became the first sitting president to support same-sex marriage last week. Before, he had said his views had been evolving.
Among Democrats hungering for inspiration from the man who instilled hope four years ago, you hear talk of newfound respect for a candidate they supported, before this, only halfheartedly. The word "courage" comes up again and again.
"I'm really proud of him," said Margie DeLong, a retired nurse in northern Lake County who plans now to volunteer for the Obama campaign, as she did in 2008.
The Rev. Courtney Jenkins found something else to celebrate in her Mother's Day sermon at Euclid Avenue Congregational Church. Jenkins preaches to a mostly black congregation in Cleveland, where high turnout among African-Americans will be one make-or-break factor for Obama in Ohio. She knows there are those who theologically disagree with his position; she heard as much from one colleague last week. Still, that person told her, "This is the president I've been waiting on. One who will stand up and say: This is what I believe."
Said Jenkins: "I think that's really what voters were looking for. He preached change. We've been waiting on change."
For some Republicans here, the gay marriage comments only reinforced long-held suspicions of, and opposition to, Obama. But more than that, this statement feels like another in-their-face reminder that the country is headed off-track in ways that have nothing to do with job numbers and debt statistics.
"This is the Bible Belt, and we still believe what the Bible says," said Harty Wallingford, a civil engineer in Ohio's Appalachian region. "They can change the Bible in the city, but we won't change it here. We're not like California. They've just gone crazy there."
Will this renewed debate go so far as to be a decider in the state that itself could determine the election? Probably not. Will it dominate the discussion as the campaign goes on? Not likely. This is a place, like much of America, far more concerned about jobs and foreclosures, but also matters such as student loan costs, collective bargaining rights and fair elections laws.
But has gay marriage entered into the dialogue here on the ground? Absolutely. And what we find in those conversations is what we may already know as Americans: That while our families, our pocketbooks and our communities may drive our choices come Election Day, our hearts — whether motivated or alienated — play a part as well.
Just listen to some of the many people talking now all across this bellwether state.