President Barack Obama's announcement that he supports gay marriage sent ripples through the political world on Wednesday. What does this mean for the 2012 election against likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney? How has Obama's position evolved? Here's a look at the many facets of this evolving story:
OBAMA'S CHANGING VIEWS
Obama said he came to support gay marriage after spending years talking to family and friends. Looking at his comments dating to 2009, here's a sampling of how his views have change:
— "I believe strongly in stopping laws designed to take rights away and passing laws that extend equal rights to gay couples. " — Human Rights Campaign, Oct. 11, 2009
— "At this point, what I've said is, is that my baseline is a strong civil union that provides them the protections and the legal rights that married couples have." — News conference, Dec. 22, 2010
— "Ultimately, they made a decision to recognize civil marriage. And I think that's exactly how things should work." — News conference on New York's passage of gay marriage, June 29, 2011
— "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." — ABC News interview, May 9, 2012
Obama's embrace of gay marriage is a political gamble that seeks to fire up young and liberal voters at the possible expense of alienating undecided voters in swing states such as North Carolina and Florida.
Some advisers, pointing to rapidly changing public views of gay rights, say Obama has more to gain than lose by the move. Strong opponents of same-sex marriage were unlikely to support him anyway, they say, and young voters who flocked to his barrier-breaking 2008 campaign are hungry for new reasons to get excited about his re-election bid.
But there are potential downsides. Obama's decision on same-sex marriage might inspire social conservatives to give more money and campaign time to Republican Mitt Romney. In 2008, Obama narrowly won North Carolina, where voters on Tuesday approved a constitutional ban on gay marriage.
Romney reaffirmed his view that marriage should be restricted to one man and one woman, highlighting a sharp contrast with Obama.
"My view is that marriage itself is between a man and a woman," the presumptive Republican presidential nominee told reporters. He said he believes that states should be able to make decisions about whether to offer certain legal rights to same-sex couples.
"This is a very tender and sensitive topic, as are many social issues, but I have the same view that I've had since — since running for office," Romney said. He first ran for political office in 1994, when he challenged Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and was elected governor of Massachusetts in 2002.
From the left and the right, rival sides in the gay-marriage debate claimed they would reap Election Day benefits from Obama's long-awaited declaration that he supports same-sex couples' right to wed.
For some gays, however, the politics were secondary to an emotional embrace of what they viewed as history in the making.
"Wow — that was wow," said Rodney Mondor of Portland, Maine, after hearing the news. He has lived with his partner for 13 years and is raising a 12-year-old son in a state that will be voting in November on whether to legalize same-sex marriage.
Obama's announcement that he supports gay marriage has boosted the hopes of gay rights groups around the world that other leaders will follow the president's example. But Vatican and other religious officials who oppose gay marriage have stayed largely silent.
Gay rights groups are lauding what they said was the tremendous precedent set by the U.S. president and hoped for changes in their own countries. In Latin America, for example, governments in Argentina and Mexico City have backed gay marriage, but most do not.
Julio Moreira, president of the Rio de Janeiro-based Arco-Iris gay rights group, said Obama's announcement is incredibly important because "the United States is a global leader on everything, and that includes gay rights."
The Rev. Joel Hunter, the evangelical pastor who Obama calls his spiritual adviser, says he's disappointed in Obama's endorsement of same-sex marriage. Hunter says Obama called him before the interview aired with his endorsement.
Hunter says he told the president he disagreed with his interpretation of what the Bible says about marriage and the president reassured him he would protect the religious freedom of churches who oppose gay marriage.
The announcement makes it harder for him to support Obama, Hunter said, but he will continue to do so.