President Barack Obama shifted his view on a major social issue Wednesday, becoming the first U.S. president to express support for same-sex marriage.
His announcement, which first aired on ABC News, came amid intense pressure that flared up on Sunday when Vice President Joe Biden shocked the political establishment by saying he favored legalizing same-sex marriage.
"At a certain point, I just concluded that for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married," said Obama.
In 1996, Obama was quoted as saying he favored same-sex marriage, but 12 years later, he ran for president as an opponent, though recently added his position was "evolving."
Obama's cabinet secretary, Arne Duncan, also supported same-sex marriage earlier this week.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement Wednesday, “This is a major turning point in the history of American civil rights. No American president has ever supported a major expansion of civil rights that has not ultimately been adopted by the American people – and I have no doubt that this will be no exception."
Bloomberg then added, "Today’s announcement is a testament to the president’s convictions."
Two other big proponents of gay marriage in New York -- City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Governor Andrew Cuomo -- also praised the president's announcement.
"It's exciting for me, someone who's getting married a week from Saturday to see this announcement, and to know that as Kim and I walk to the altar, we're walked there not just by our fathers, not just by the great state of New York, but are also being walked there by the President of the United States," Quinn said.
"I think this is a major advancement for equal rights in this country," said Cuomo. "I applaud the president's courage. I believe it will be respected by the people of this country. I think it's going to be a great boost for marriage equality."
Governor Cuomo signed the bill legalizing same-sex marriage in New York state in June of last year.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who has maintained the church's strong stance against same sex marriage, said Wednesday he was saddened by the president's announcement.
In a statement, Dolan said, in part, "Unfortunately, President Obama’s words today are not surprising since they follow upon various actions already taken by his Administration that erode or ignore the unique meaning of marriage."
The president's about-face also puts him in difficult political footing. About half of Americans say they are in favor of same-sex marriage, but the issue attracts strong opposition, especially in swing states like North Carolina, which the president won in 2008.
Just yesterday, North Carolina voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum that would ban gay marriage under a constitutional amendment.
This could drum up voters on both sides of the presidential race. Obama's likely Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, is in favor of changing the U.S. Constitution to ban it.
"I do not favor marriage between people of the same gender and I don't favor civil unions if they are identical to marriage other than by name," said Romney. "My view is that domestic partnership benefits, hospital visitation rights and the like are appropriate, but that the others are not."
Across the five boroughs, including in Manhattan's Greenwich Village -- where the modern gay civil rights movement began -- New Yorkers voiced strong views for and against the president's new stance.
"What's wrong with it? I mean everybody is walking around here talking about how they hate gays. Why? That's what's wrong with the world today. Not enough love," said one New Yorker.
"It validates us, it validates us, our lives, our loves, it validates us," said another New Yorker.
"I just think they did it to get more votes in the next election, honestly," said a third New Yorker.
The president's move could drum up left-leaning support, and at the very least it allows him to not appear to be overly cautious on the issue politically.
However, many political observers think this election will hinge on the economy, saying by November this issue could fade from the headlines.