Gay rights moved to the forefront of the presidential campaign Tuesday after Democratic Sen. Barack Obama’s announcement that he opposes a November ballot measure that would ban same-sex marriage in California.In a letter to San Francisco’s Alice B. Toklas Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Democratic Club, the presumptive presidential nominee said he opposed “the divisive and discriminatory efforts to amend the California Constitution” and similar efforts in other states.Obama’s position on Proposition 8 was announced at a club event Sunday. Last week, Arizona Sen. John McCain, the expected GOP standard-bearer in November, told officials of Protect Marriage, a coalition that gathered 1.1 million signatures for the California measure, that he backs their efforts “to recognize marriage as a unique institution between a man and a woman.”
For both campaigns, the decision to get involved in the same-sex marriage debate carries political risks.California is one of three states with same-sex marriage bans on the November ballot. While the state is seen as Obama country, and Arizona is McCain’s home state, Florida, the third state seeking to limit marriage to a man and a woman, is a swing state that will be a major prize in the November election.Obama is skating gingerly past his previous position on the issue.The Illinois senator has said repeatedly that he believes marriage should be only between man and a woman. When the California Supreme Court overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriage in May, Obama released a carefully nuanced statement saying he respected the court’s decision, believed states should make their own decisions on marriage and “will continue to fight for civil unions as president.”
On Tuesday, Obama spokeswoman Shannon Gilson released this statement:”Senator Obama supports civil unions, and he has consistently opposed federal and state constitutional marriage amendments because as we have seen in some states, enshrining a definition of marriage into the constitution can allow states to roll back the civil rights and benefits that are provided in domestic partnerships and civil unions.”But civil unions, gay activists argue, aren’t the same as marriage, and they say his earlier stance would put Obama on the wrong side of what’s increasingly seen as a civil rights issue.