World reacts to Obama’s 'evolution' on same-sex marriage
Pressure has heaped on Prime Minister Julia Gillard following US President Barack Obama’s decision to air his personal support for same-sex marriage during a television news interview overnight.
During the course of the interview with the US ABC network, Obama made it clear his views had well and truly moved from “evolving” to outright support on the issue.
“Today, I was asked a direct question and gave a direct answer: I believe that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry,” Obama said in a statement following the televised interview.
“Even at my own dinner table, when I look at [my daughters] Sasha and Malia, who have friends whose parents are same-sex couples, I know it wouldn’t dawn on them that their friends’ parents should be treated differently.
“I respect the beliefs of others, and the right of religious institutions to act in accordance with their own doctrines. But I believe that in the eyes of the law, all Americans should be treated equally. And where states enact same-sex marriage, no federal act should invalidate them,” he added.
“If you agree, you can stand up with me here.”
In Australia, soon-to-be-retiring former Greens leader Senator Bob Brown said Obama’s support following a period of reflection on the issue would perhaps prompt local politicians to follow suit.
“It opens the way for Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce, who are still cornered by the old thinking, to move ahead themselves and catch up with the majority of Australians who feel that equal marriage is where we should be going as a nation,” the openly gay politician told ABC Radio.
According to statements made by the Prime Minister today, despite Obama’s personal evolution on the issue Gillard’s opinion seems not to have budged.
“I know President Obama has made that statement,” Gillard told ABC Radio when asked about the news this morning.
“I haven’t had the opportunity to view it myself. I’ve seen the reports of it, but no, my view hasn’t changed and when a bill comes to the parliament later this year ... I won’t vote for it.
“I’ve made my position clear and that’s the position I’ll take into the parliament when ultimately the Bill that has been moved by Stephen Jones, one of the Labor members of our team, comes before the parliament.”
Gillard remains out of step with other Western leaders on the issue with UK Prime Minister David Cameron and newly installed French President Francois Hollande both committing their personal support to equality in recent days.
Obama's announcement was met with immediate and widespread praise by LGBT rights advocates in the US.
“President Obama’s ‘evolution’ is now complete. Congratulations, Mr. President, for making history today by becoming the first sitting president to explicitly support marriage for same-sex couples,” director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Rea Carey said.
The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) president Herndon Graddick said Obama’s support would be judged positively by history.
“The arc of history today bent a little closer to equality for every American,” he said.
Founder and President of Freedom to Marry, Evan Wolfson, said Obama was now only one of many who believed in equal rights for same-sex couples.
“Today, President Obama added his voice to the growing chorus of Americans who believe that all loving and committed couples should share equally in the freedom to marry,” he said.
Regular Fox News commentator Sally Kohn also backed Obama’s decision.
“I’m glad the president's views have finally evolved enough to catch up with equality and justice, but given the political sensitivities of this topic and the polarized times in which we find ourselves, I’d rather he make a much more full-throated and bold speech on marriage equality — not because gay activists pressured him, not because the media dogged him, but because it’s the right thing to do,” she wrote.
Legendary actor and vocal gay rights advocate George Takei said he was “thrilled” by the news.
“I commend the President for taking what many pundits inevitably will say was an ‘unnecessary’ risk in an election year,” he said.
“Such an assessment, however, sadly only underscores the second-class status many LGBT Americans experience daily, knowing that their rights and lives are nothing more than a political tool to be hauled out to rally the base, for or against.”
Other celebrities took to Twitter to voice their reactions.
“Obama gets it right on gay marriage. Bravo,” Alec Baldwin said over the social networking site.
“Bravo, Mr. President, and thank you,” out actor Neil Patrick Harris tweeted.
“Thank you, President Obama! ... No more living in the past!” reality tv star Kim Kardashian tweeted.
Openly gay Glee star Jane Lynch could not hide her excitement as well.
“Pretty darn happy today,” she tweeted. “Thanks Mr President, for supporting the dignity of my family and so many others!”
Obama’s change of mind on the issue came about only a day after a New York Times editorial urged the president to make a clear statement on the issue following US Vice President Joe Biden’s impromptu announcement of support during a live television interview last weekend.
Six US states and the District of Columbia already allow gay and lesbian marriages. In Colorado on Wednesday, a bill that would have granted civil unions to same-sex couples failed to advance to a full vote.
On Tuesday, North Carolina’s legislature passed a bill that would align it with 28 other states that have voter-approved constitutional bans on same-sex marriages.
In the US marriage is a state issue whereas it is covered by federal law in Australia, although some constitutional experts such as Professor George Williams believe there may be leeway for states to enact their own separate laws covering same-sex marriage.