But the Obama campaign may have calculated that the president's waffling--it could no longer be dubbed "Clintonian" after Bill Clinton actively campaigned against the North Carolina amendment--would tarnish his "hope and change" brand and dampen enthusiasm among liberal Democrats, young voters and single women, all key parts of his winning coalition in 2008.
"They ripped off the Band-Aid, didn't they?" a Democratic congressional aide told Yahoo News, saying that Vice President Joe Biden's endorsement of same-sex marriage on "Meet The Press" Sunday had forced the White House to confront "head-on" an issue they had hoped not to take up.
In 1996, Obama said on a campaign questionnaire in Illinois, "I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages." White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer later disavowed that statement, saying "someone else, not the president" had filled it out.
As president, Obama signed a law repealing the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban on openly gay servicemembers, and ordered his administration to stop defending in court the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex unions.
"My feelings about this are constantly evolving," Obama told reporters at a press conference one month after Republicans romped in the November 2010 mid-term elections.
"I struggle with this. I have friends, I have people who work for me, who are in powerful, strong, long-lasting gay or lesbian unions. And they are extraordinary people, and this is something that means a lot to them and they care deeply about," Obama said.
He went on to say: "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. And I think--and I think that's the right thing to do. But I recognize that from their perspective it is not enough, and I think is something that we're going to continue to debate and I personally am going to continue to wrestle with going forward."
People in Ohio have been "evolving" on the issue, too, said Beck, the political scientist. Ohio "public opinion probably has changed, as it has nationally," he said.
But "how much it has changed, I don't know."
Holly Bailey contributed reporting.