Whatever his motive, Mr Obama_s conversion is a step forward for gay rights. The president had already stopped enforcing, but not yet repealed, the federal Defence of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman. He had repealed the _don_t ask, don_t tell_ law which barred homosexuals from serving openly in the armed services. But he had hesitated on gay marriage _in part because I thought that civil unions would be sufficient,_ Mr Obama told ABC. He had been _sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people, the word marriage was something that invokes very powerful traditions [and] religious beliefs._
At the state level, meanwhile, the cause of both gay marriage and civil unions had a bad week. North Carolina (where the Democrats will hold their convention this summer) voted overwhelmingly in favour of a constitutional amendment to make marriage between one man and one woman the only legal union the state will recognise. And in Colorado a measure to legalise civil unions in a state that made gay marriage illegal in 2006 was prevented from coming to a vote in the state legislature.
Advocates had expected that Colorado would become the first state that has banned gay marriage to pass a bill allowing civil unions, which grant certain legal rights to same-sex couples. But in a dramatic turn on May 8th a state Senate-approved bill to that effect died without a full vote in the Colorado House of Representatives, which holds a slim 33-22 Republican majority. This was after Frank McNulty, the Republican Speaker, delayed bringing the bill to the floor in time to beat a midnight deadline.
Republicans in Colorado may come to regret the 11th-hour stratagem. In America as a whole, says Gallup, 50% of people support same-sex marriage. And according to local polls, civil unions strike a majority of Coloradans as an acceptable compromise. Maybe the views of its legislature just need time to _evolve_.