WASHINGTON (AP/WPRI) — Senator Jack Reed announced that he is now in favor of same sex marriage. In the past, he said he was thinking it over.
His announcement comes right after President Barack Obama made history.
The president declared his support for gay marriage on Wednesday in a historic announcement that instantly elevated a polarizing social issue to a more prominent role in the 2012 race for the White House.
- Related: Americans divided on gay marriage
The announcement was the first by a sitting president, and Obama's Republican rival, Mitt Romney, swiftly disagreed with it.
"I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman," Romney said from Oklahoma.
Gay rights advocates cheered Obama's declaration, which they had long urged him to make. Joe Solomonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said it "extends that message of hope" to gays and lesbians.
Rhode Island gay residents said this is long overdue.
"It was as if the world changed," said Kate Monteiro of Warwick, Rhode Island.
Obama announced his shift — he had said for years that his views on gay marriage were "evolving" — in an interview with ABC in which he cited a blend of the personal and the presidential.
"Anytime a president steps up and speaks out in favor of civil rights it's a big deal," said Ray Sullivan of Marriage Equality Rhode Island.
Hours after President Obama made his announcement, Senator Jack Reed also said he also believes in same sex marriage.
Now, the entire Rhode Island congressional delegation is in favor of same sex marriage.
Currently, only civil unions are permitted in Rhode Island for gay couples.
"I think it's only a matter of time. It's not a question of when, but if we pass marriage equality, and that's what we continue to fight for everyday," said Sullivan.
Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence sent in a statement to Eyewitness News about the president's remarks.
"The decision of President Barack Obama to endorse same-sex marriage is extremely disappointing, but not at all surprising."
Tobin went on to say, "Even the President of the United States does not have the authority to redefine the sacred institution of marriage that has been given to us by God."
Public opinion on gay marriage has shifted in recent years, with most polls now finding the public evenly split, rather than opposed.
A Gallup poll released this week found 50 percent of all adults in favor of legal recognition of same-sex marriages, marking the second time that poll has found support for legal gay marriage at 50 percent or higher. Majorities of Democrats (65 percent) and independents (57 percent) supported such recognition, while most Republicans (74 percent) said same sex marriages should not be legal.
Six states — all in the Northeast except Iowa — and the District of Columbia allow same sex marriages. In addition, two other states have laws that are not yet in effect and may be subject to referendums.
AP Deputy Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta and Philip Elliott in Colorado contributed to this report.
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