President Barack Obama acknowledged Wednesday that his position on same-sex marriage could change in the future.
"Attitudes evolve, including mine," he told five liberal bloggers at the White House.
Since the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama has expressed support for civil unions but his opposition to same-sex marriage has been no secret.
Politico's Ben Smith observed that the president may be shifting to a position he had during his run for Illinois state Senate when he supported same-sex marriage rights.
Windy City Times reported that in 1996 Obama expressed "unequivocal" support for marriage rights. "I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages," Obama told Outlines newspaper.
"Since you’ve become President, a lot has changed," AmericaBlog's Joe Sudbay noted. "I know during the campaign you often said you thought marriage was the union between a man and a woman, and there -- like I said, when you look at public opinion polling, it’s heading in the right direction. We’ve actually got Republicans like Ted Olson and even Ken Mehlman on our side now. So I just really want to know what is your position on same-sex marriage?" he asked.
"I do not intend to make big news sitting here with the five of you, as wonderful as you guys are," Obama told the bloggers.
"I think it’s a fair question to ask. I think that -- I am a strong supporter of civil unions. As you say, I have been to this point unwilling to sign on to same-sex marriage primarily because of my understandings of the traditional definitions of marriage," Obama continued.
"But I also think you’re right that attitudes evolve, including mine. And I think that it is an issue that I wrestle with and think about because I have a whole host of friends who are in gay partnerships. I have staff members who are in committed, monogamous relationships, who are raising children, who are wonderful parents."
"And I care about them deeply. And so while I’m not prepared to reverse myself here, sitting in the Roosevelt Room at 3:30 in the afternoon, I think it’s fair to say that it’s something that I think a lot about. That’s probably the best you’ll do out of me today," he said.
Obama later suggested that the legalization of same-sex marriage was inevitable. "The one thing I will say today is I think it’s pretty clear where the trendlines are going."
Some observers say Obama may be laying the groundwork for supporting marriage rights in the future.
"Presidents don't usually think out loud unless they intend to send a signal that they are shifting a position," former adviser to President Bill Clinton Richard Socarides told Politico.
"I think [Obama] realizes he can't run as a gay rights advocate in 2012 and be against marriage equality. People see domestic partnerships are separate but equal."
The bloggers also quizzed Obama on the military's controversial "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
"One of the things I’d like to ask you — and I think it’s a simple yes or no question too — is do you think that 'don’t ask, don’t tell' is unconstitutional?" asked Sudbay.
"It’s not a simple yes or no question because I’m not sitting on the Supreme Court. And I’ve got to be careful, as president of the United States, to make sure that when I’m making pronouncements about laws that Congress passed I don’t do so just off the top of my head," Obama said.
Then Obama spoke to the disappointment of the gay community with his administration.
"I guess my attitude is that we have been as vocal, as supportive of the LGBT community as any president in history. I’ve appointed more openly gay people to more positions in this government than any president in history. We have moved forward on a whole range of issues that were directly under my control, including, for example, hospital visitation," he said.
"And so, I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think that the disillusionment is justified."
Bloggers John Amato from Crooks & Liars, Duncan Black (Atrios) from EschatonBlog, Barbara Morrill (BarbinMD) from DailyKos, and Oliver Willis from OliverWillis.com were also present for the meeting.