President Obama on Friday hailed a Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, saying justice has arrived “like a thunderbolt” for gay and lesbian couples.
“They’ve reaffirmed that all Americans are entitled to the equal protection of the law, that all people should be treated equally,” Obama said in the Rose Garden.
Obama said the ruling ends uncertainty for same-sex couples by ending the “patchwork” system of marriage laws in the United States.
“Sometimes there are days like this, when that slow, steady effort is rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt,” Obama said.
Obama opposed same-sex marriage when he was first elected president in 2008. He backed it before the 2012 election, saying his views had been “evolving” during his time in the White House.
The president did, however, endorse the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which denied federal benefits to same-sex married couples.
In a 5-4 ruling, the high court ruled same-sex couples have the right to marry under the 14th amendment of the Constitution. That means the 14 states that still have bans on same-sex marriage can no longer enforce them.
“Today, we can say in no uncertain terms that we have made our union a little more perfect," Obama said from the Rose Garden.
He credited the efforts of gay-rights advocates, saying they displayed "thousands of small acts of courage" to advance their cause.
Just before making his statement, Obama called the plaintiff in the case, Jim Obergefell, to congratulate him on the ruling, according to CNN.
Obama also encouraged respect for "Americans of goodwill" who oppose the ruling because of "sincere and deeply held beliefs."
Dozens of White House staff members, including senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, stood along the colonnade next to the Rose Garden to watch Obama’s remarks.
Obama first learned of the ruling in a phone call with Jarrett while he was completing his eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a victim of the recent mass shooting at a Charleston, S.C. church.
It was the second day in a row Obama appeared in the Rose Garden to celebrate a major Supreme Court decision. He told the nation Thursday his signature healthcare law is “here to stay” after the court ruled in its favor.
Obama ended the speech by quoting Robert Kennedy, who said individual actions by people can be like pebbles thrown into a still lake, as “ripples of hope cascade outwards and change the world.”
“Those countless, often anonymous heroes, they deserve our thanks. They should be very proud. America should be very proud,” he said before walking back to the Oval Office.
In a rare sight, aides lining the colonnade between his office and the Rose Garden applauded as Obama walked by.
Ben Kamisar contributed.
This story was updated at 12:41 p.m.