U.S. President Barack Obama
U.S. President Barack Obama.
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U.S. President Obama in the ABC News interview, Wednesday, May 9, 2012. Photo by AP

Barack Obama became the first U.S. President to publicly express support for same-sex marriage on Wednesday, and U.S. Jewish groups came out in support of his statements.

The U.S. president’s comments in an interview to ABC News were made following days of debate over his position on same-sex marriage, sparked by remarks of two of his cabinet members - Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan - who are apparently in favor of it.

"I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, 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, mentioning that even Republicans, while being adamant in their rejection of his economic policies, are more open to the issue today.

Obama told the interviewer that his daughters have friends whose parents are same-sex couples. "You know, Malia and Sasha, they have friends whose parents are same-sex couples," he said.  

"There have been times where Michelle and I have been sitting around the dinner table and we’re talking about their friends and their parents and Malia and Sasha, it wouldn’t dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated differently. It doesn’t make sense to them and frankly, that’s the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective."

He mentioned that he and the First Lady are practicing Christians: "Obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the golden rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated."

President Obama, who many times in the past expressed support for rights of the LGBT community, frustrated some of its members by never going far enough to express as president his support for equality in marriage for same sex couples. In recent days, he was prompted to do so again after Vice President Joe Biden said in an interview he feels "comfortable" with the issue, as did the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Recent Washington Post poll revealed 52% of Americans support same sex-marriage.

Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force thanked Obama "for making history today by becoming the first sitting president to explicitly support marriage for same-sex couples. Who benefits? Millions of families who now know that their country’s leader believes in fairness for all. This is a great day for America."

The National Jewish Democratic Council President and CEO David A. Harris said that "vast majority of American Jews are behind the president in support of marriage equality."

The majority of the Jewish community supports same sex marriage – in a recent poll of the Jewish community released by the Public Religion Research Institute, 81% supported or strongly supported allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally. 10% opposed, 8% strongly opposed.

However, the leadership of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America issued critical statement stressing it is "disappointed" by the decision.

"Jewish law is unequivocal in opposing same sex relationships. Moreover, marriage and family has long been a prime value for the Jewish people. While Judaism also teaches respect for others and condemns discrimination we, as Orthodox Jewish leaders, oppose any effort to change the definition of marriage to include same sex unions. Such legalization is also problematic with regard to religious liberty, as dissenting institutions are pressured to support or recognize relationships they cannot."

Christian conservatives also unleashed criticism of new Obama's statement. Ralph Reed, founder and chairman of Faith & Freedom Coalition, called him "a president who is tone-deaf and out-of-touch with the time-honored values of millions of Americans. This is an unanticipated gift to the Romney campaign. It is certain to fuel a record turnout of voters of faith to the polls this November."

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