We're delighted President Obama finally got off the fence and declared his unequivocal support for same-sex marriage.
It was not only time, it was long overdue. Obama has said for the past year and a half that his views on the issue were "evolving." While his inaction may have been politically shrewd, it reflected a failure of leadership.
Obama changed that equation Wednesday by becoming the first president to endorse the idea, and doing so in time to ensure that gay marriage is part of the debate in the 2012 race for the White House.
Vice President Biden started the political buzz when he went on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday and said he was "absolutely comfortable" with same-sex marriage and heartened by its growing acceptance around the country.
The administration was quick to point out that the vice president was speaking for himself. But the next day Obama's education secretary, Arne Duncan, when asked on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" whether he personally supported same-sex marriage, answered, "Yes, I do."
Those "personal" revelations clearly pushed Obama to take a public stand. Obama has now admitted that he was hesitant on gay marriage, " in part because I thought that civil unions would be sufficient." He now sees it as " important for me personally to go ahead and affirm that same-sex couples should be able to get married."
The president also considered his daughters, Malia and Sasha, both of whom have friends whose parents are same-sex couples. And he said first lady Michelle Obama was involved in the decision and joins him in supporting gay marriage.
It's clear that they're not alone.
Polls show that half of Americans support gay marriage, up from 27 percent in 1996. The polls also show that conservative voters are overwhelming against gay marriage, and that was Obama's dilemma.
He didn't want to alienate voters, especially in swing states such as Virginia, Colorado and North Carolina, which Tuesday became the 30th state to pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Six states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriages.
Declaring his support for same-sex marriage may lose Obama votes, but maybe not as many as he thinks. He has clearly been pro-gay rights, and supporting same-sex marriage might re-energize his political base, especially younger voters.
Obama had already repealed the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that barred openly gay members of the armed forces from serving in the military. He also opposes the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, and had already backed civil unions for gays. The next logical step was to demonstrate political courage and come out in favor of same-sex marriage.
There's political risk in the president's unequivocal declaration, but also political advantage if it shines a spotlight on elements that will stop at nothing to prevent a loving couple from legalizing their union. And it could bring out Democrats and independents who might have been disappointed that Obama would not take a stand on same-sex marriage.
Voters deserved to know where the president stood on the issue now and not after the election. Obama did the right thing by speaking up.
Sometimes leadership means saying the right thing even if it hurts.