More Americans are embracing gay marriage, adding to calls from Democrats for President Barack Obama—who has said he’s not sure where he stands—to publicly express his support before the November elections.
Mr. Obama opposes gay marriage, but for nearly the last 18 months has said his views are “evolving.” Now he’s under pressure to make support for gay marriage part of his party’s election platform when he formally accepts the Democratic nomination in September.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, chairman of the Democratic National Convention, said last week that a gay-marriage plank should be part of the platform, echoing recent comments from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.). Gay-rights activists say they have been making the case to the White House that polls show Mr. Obama has little to lose politically if he endorses gay marriage.
The most-recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll suggests that views on gay marriage are shifting faster than for any other hot-button social issue in recent memory, pollsters say.
Forty-nine percent of Americans now say they approve of gay marriage, up from 40% shortly after Mr. Obama took office in 2009. Mr. Obama’s stated stance makes him part of the 8% of respondents who are unsure how they feel about gay marriage, according to the poll released last week.
The poll showed the biggest jump among blue-collar voters and African Americans, two key Democratic constituencies. Support among blue-collar voters jumped 20 percentage points to 49%. African-American support for gay marriage rose from 32% to 50%. More than half of Hispanics and voters aged 18 to 34 also voiced support. Mr. Obama’s advisers have closely watched the changing views among African-Americans and Hispanics.
White House officials say they don’t feel intense pressure for Mr. Obama to endorse gay marriage before November, in part because the president has delivered on other gay-rights issues, such as the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the policy that banned gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military.
The president’s indecisiveness has frustrated some of his supporters, and even members of his own team have endorsed the issue. Shaun Donovan, secretary of Housing and Urban Development, said last fall he “absolutely” supports gay marriage. “We’ve got more work to do in the Obama administration in a second term,” Mr. Donovan told Washington, D.C., a gay and lesbian news magazine citing “marriage equality.”
Evan Wolfson, the president of the group Freedom to Marry, who has pressed the White House to endorse gay marriage, said the president’s position on the issue is “the only false note” in his policy portfolio. “That hurts him and hurts us,” he said.
Support for gay marriage among Democrats is strong, up 12 percentage points from 2009 to 67%, according to the Journal/NBC poll. Among independents, 46% now support gay marriage, up from 37% in 2009.
The poll also showed a nine percentage point increase in support for gay marriage among Republicans, to 31%.
The Republican presidential candidates didn’t support the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” They also support an amendment to the Constitution banning gay marriage, while Mr. Obama supports congressional repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, and asked the Justice Department to stop defending it.
On gay marriage, some Republicans say there is no daylight between Mr. Obama’s current position and their own.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican who supports civil unions and is against gay marriage, recently said he has “the exact same position as the president” and that it’s politically expedient for Mr. Obama to still say his views are “evolving.”
“The president has hidden on this issue,” Mr. Christie, who is considered a potential vice presidential candidate, said on MSNBC. “He wants to have it both ways.”
As a candidate for president in 2008, Mr. Obama said he supported civil unions but opposed gay marriage. In the fall of 2010, he said his views were “evolving,” noting he wrestles with the issue given that he has gay friends and staff members in committed relationships. He’s been asked about the matter several times since and has declined to take a position.
If Mr. Obama were to endorse gay marriage he would likely say the right for gays to marry is his personal belief, people close to the president said.
But he’d stop short of calling for any federal action to legalize gay marriage.
Carol E. Lee