NEAL CONAN, HOST:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan. And among the stories we're following here today at NPR News, President Obama says he now supports same-sex marriage. For months, he said his position was evolving. Comments earlier this week by Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in support of gay marriage led to calls for the president to clarify his position ahead of the November election, which he did it today in an interview with ABC News. The president spoke to the fact that the word marriage evokes powerful traditions and religious beliefs for many people.
(SOUNDBITE OF ABC NEWS)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: But I have to tell you that over the course of several years, as I talked to friends and family and neighbors, when I think about members of my own staff, who are incredibly committed in 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.
CONAN: President Obama speaking earlier today in an interview with ABC News. Political junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A. And, Ken, why - what changes now and why now?
KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: Well, I think Vice President Biden certainly forced the president's hand. I don't think the president would have liked to have had to deal with this issue, given the fact that it is - the nation is still split 50-50 basically on this issue, and I think he would have been very happy to let it ride until after the election when he could address it more thoroughly. Biden forced his hand. But in the same sense, I think the president is now free, at least, to now know - we now know where he stands, and all the questions about his leadership and profiles and courage have been answered.
CONAN: Some people said that after the vice president said he was absolutely comfortable with gay marriage, for the president not to clarify his position looked weak.
RUDIN: Yeah, I think so. I mean, I don't think anybody is saying that the president just came to this conclusion now. I think he just didn't want to address it, given the fact that so many states are in play. His re-election is in play. And of course, this kind of division in a split country does give some - his re-election some risk.
CONAN: Those who would oppose him on this issue include social conservatives. He's not going to get many of their votes to begin with. But some of his own constituency is going to be taken aback by this.
RUDIN: Well, let's deal with both of those. First of all, there was a lot of hesitance among religious conservatives to back Mitt Romney. Perhaps this position by the president makes this religious community suddenly embrace Romney even more emphatically, more dramatically. And of course, a lot of - on the other side a lot - in African-American community, polls show that, of course, 98 percent of African-American voters will support the president. But on the issue of same sex-marriage, the black community is much more reticent, matter of fact, even negative in many, many polls.
And again, in close states, in key states, like, perhaps Virginia, like North Carolina, states where the African-American community is legitimate, I mean, a considerable, perhaps any kind of lessening of that could be significant.
CONAN: And we had just seen an openly gay adviser to Mitt Romney, a foreign affairs specialist, basically forced out of his campaign after religious conservatives objected to his position. This is going to be a stark contrast between the two camps.
RUDIN: Absolutely. And I suspect that maybe both sides will welcome this challenge.
CONAN: Ken Rudin, thanks very much.
RUDIN: Thank you, Neal.
CONAN: Much more on this later today on NPR News. You can hear coverage of the president's - and more analysis of the president's remarks later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.