President Barack Obama wasted little time casting his historic embrace of same-sex marriage as a political wedge issue Thursday, telling a Hollywood fundraising crowd that it shows how his vision of the country differs from Republicans.
Speaking at a dinner at the home of George Clooney, Obama raised the issue gay marriage obliquely, saying simply to enthusiastic applause: “Obviously, yesterday we made some news.”
“It was a logical extension of what America is supposed to be,” he said. “It grew directly out of this difference in visions: Are we a country that includes everybody and give everybody a shot and treats everybody fairly?”
Obama’s remarks came at the end of a day when his campaign seemed eager to transform his support of gay marriage into donor enthusiasm and grass-roots vigor. In a web video, the campaign portrayed Republican rival Mitt Romney as “backwards on equality.”
The Clooney fundraiser in Los Angeles’ Studio City area was in the heart of celebrity gay marriage activism.
White House spokesman Jay Carney brushed aside questions about the timing of the attack on Romney, saying that Obama and Romney had differed on issues of gay rights even before the president declared his support for same-sex marriage.
“Gov. Romney is for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would enshrine discrimination into our founding legal document,” Carney said. “The president thinks that’s wrong. So their positions were starkly different before yesterday.”
In Seattle, where he was attending two fundraisers, Obama witnessed the support first hand as his motorcade passed a woman holding an infant and a sign that said: “Thank you! Mr. President for standing up for my mommys!”
He drew big cheers from supporters at Seattle’s historic Paramount Theater when he said his vision for a better America applies to everyone, “no matter what you look like, no matter what your last name, no matter who you love.”
Without referring directly to marriage, Obama expanded on the theme of same-sex equality.
“We are moving forward to a country where every American is treated with dignity and with respect and here in Washington you’ll have the chance to make your voice heard on the issue of making sure that everybody, regardless of sexual orientation, is treated fairly,” Obama said. “You’ll have a chance to weigh in on this. We are a nation that treats people fairly.”
Washington state has passed a law approving same-sex marriage, but opponents are gathering signatures for a ballot initiative to overturn the law and declare marriage as union of man and woman.
Outside the Paramount, 44-year-old Teri McClain was holding a double-sided sign expressing gratitude to the president for “evolving on same-sex marriage.”
“He’s looking out for the good of the people, and this is what the people want,” McClain said.
Though the timing of his announcement was not of his choosing, the campaign was not shying away from the issue even though aides conceded it held some political risk for the president. Just hours after Obama voiced his support for gay marriage in an ABC interview, the campaign emailed a clip of the interview and a personal statement from the president to its vast list of supporters, drawing attention to his stance
Still, Obama said Vice President Joe Biden got “a little bit over his skis” in publicly embracing gay marriage, forcing Obama to speed up his own plans to announce support for the right of same-sex couples to marry.
“Would I have preferred to have done this in my own way, in my own terms, without I think, there being a lot of notice to everybody? Sure,” Obama said. “But all’s well that ends well.”
Biden apologized to Obama on Wednesday for getting ahead of him, a person familiar with the exchange said. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the private discussion, said Obama accepted the apology and told Biden he knew Biden’s own words of support for gay marriage were heartfelt.
Hollywood has been outspoken in its support of gay rights. Although Obama will be in a liberal bastion, California itself illustrates the crosscurrents of gay marriage. Californians have twice voted to ban gay marriage, most recently in 2008. The most recent ban, known as Proposition 8, is being fought in the courts.
Clooney’s dinner was organized by Jeffrey Katzenberg, the CEO of DreamWorks Animation, and included such celebrity guests as Robert Downey Jr., Tobey Maguire and Barbra Streisand. The event was initially to be a spring gala hosted by Katzenberg at his house. But Katzenberg’s home is under renovation, so Clooney offered to host instead.
“If you get a call from Jeffrey, don’t answer it,” Clooney joked before Obama spoke,