By Mike Lillis - 05/09/12 08:55 PM EDT
Behind Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a long list of House Democrats hailed President Obama's support for gay marriage Wednesday, saying Republicans are "on the wrong side of history" for their continued opposition.
The swift and enthusiastic reaction from Pelosi and others is indication that the Democrats see support for gay marriage as a political benefit — not an albatross — on the campaign trail this year.
Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, said Obama's move "marks progress" in the country's "march toward equality."
"With President Obama’s support, we look forward to the day when all American families are treated equally in the eyes of the law," Pelosi said in a statement.
The San Francisco liberal hammered Republicans in North Carolina for successfully pushing an amendment, passed Tuesday, to define marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman. She also attacked GOP leaders in the House for proposing to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act without including blanket protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
“Republicans are standing on the wrong side of history," Pelosi said. "These actions only serve to advance fundamental unfairness in our society."
Moments later, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) sent out an email message from Pelosi urging supporters to endorse gay marriage.
"We must continue to fight — in the courts, in state legislatures, and in Congress — until all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans are guaranteed fair treatment in our country," Pelosi wrote in the email.
Obama for years has frustrated the gay-rights community with his refusal to endorse gay marriage, saying that he was against it that but his views were "evolving."
On Sunday, that delicate argument became unglued after Vice President Biden told NBC's "Meet the Press" that he is "absolutely comfortable" with gay marriage. White House officials downplayed Biden's remarks as the independent opinion of a vice president speaking off-the-cuff, but they couldn't get the cat back in the bag, forcing Obama on Wednesday to clarify his position.
"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 said in an interview with ABC's Robin Roberts.
Conservative groups pounced. The Log Cabin Republicans, a group of gay GOPers, said Obama's timing was "offensive and callous" because his endorsement came too late to sway the North Carolina vote, while the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) warned that Obama's move will cost him a number of swing states in November.
"President Obama has now made the definition of marriage a defining issue in the presidential contest, especially in swing states like Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, Florida and Nevada,” Brian Brown, NOM's president, said in a statement. “Voters in all these states, and over two dozen more, have adopted state constitutional amendments defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman."
Still, Democrats don't appear to see the issue as a liability, as a number of Democrats — leaders and rank-and-file members alike — were quick to join Pelosi in cheering Obama's move.
Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, called Obama's shift "a milestone in our fight to secure equal rights for all Americans;" Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), one of four openly gay members of Congress, thanked Obama "for his for his support for equality;" and Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) characterized Obama's position as "truly wonderful and welcome news."
"One of the greatest and most liberating human emotions is acceptance," Welch said in a statement. "And what the President did today was accept that the quality of love two people share is more important than their gender."
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), an openly gay member of Congress, released a statement noting that Obama's decision was not without political risk.
"But I believe it will be clear in the days ahead that this will cost him no votes, since those opposed to legal equality for LGBT people were already inclined to oppose him, and that it will make it easier for us to mobilize the people in this country who oppose discrimination to help reelect him," Frank said.
A number of Democratic lawmakers took to Twitter to register support.
Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) called it "a proud moment."
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) called the announcement “HUGE” in a tweet. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) called it “a historic step.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) thanked the president for his leadership on LGBT equality and later went on to ask her followers to join her in expressing their public support for the president. And Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said all Americans deserve to have a long and happy marriage like her own.
Democrats including Sens. Mark Udall (Colo.) and Charles Schumer (N.Y.), Reps. Jim Himes (Conn.) and Jackie Speier (Calif.) and mayors from D.C., Newark and New York City rushed Twitter within the first hour of the interview to add their support to Obama's position and express their own opinions.
"Obama did the right thing by coming out for same-sex marriage. The drive towards equality in America is inexorable," Schumer said.
A Gallup poll released Tuesday found that Americans are split down the middle when it comes to gay marriage, with 50 percent of respondents indicating support. That figure is down from 53 percent in the same poll last year, but up from 27 percent in 1996, when Gallup first broached the question.
—Alicia Cohn contributed to this report.
Updated at 5:25 p.m.