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Hope and change for the Obama campaign?

Mark Mardell
North America editor
@BBCMarkMardellon Twitter

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionPresident Obama's endorsement of gay marriage ended years of equivocation

President Barack Obama has been forced out of the closet. Few doubted that he was in favour of gay marriage but "don't ask, don't tell" had worked well enough up until now.

The media didn't ask him. And he certainly wasn't going to tell.

I am told his campaign staff really thought they could get away with not touching this hot button issue, and go through until election night leaving his views draped with hazy protestations about the ongoing "evolution" of his views.

I have trouble believing that they thought he could avoid the question until November. But there is no doubt that the rapid evolution of his views into the limelight was not intelligent design.

Unless you see Vice President Joe Biden as the creator of presidential frankness.

The "Veep" is sometimes regarded in Washington as a bit of a loose canon for actually answering questions.

It seems a stage too far to call it a gaffe when a political speaks honestly. But his declaration that he was "absolutely comfortable" did not go well in the White House.

It led to a media feeding frenzy and a couple of torrid days of questions for Mr Obama's spokesman. Swiftly followed by this hastily arranged interview with ABC News.

Hope and change

It had become a question of character.

Coming out against gay marriage would be a non-starter. It Is not what he thinks and it would enrage crucial supporters.

At a time when his staff are trying to project the image of a strong, tough president, looking too scared to voice an opinion about this iconic issue would have looked terrible.

There are real risks. It may make it harder to get some Christian African-Americans to come out and vote. These views won't help him win the important states of North Carolina and Virginia.

But if pundits view his decision as dangerous, many supporters will see it as courageous. Views are changing fast in America.

With a poll out recently suggesting a 50/48 split in favour of gay marriage, Rick Santorum fulminating about "social engineering" by "the hard left" may delight some Republicans, and Mitt Romney's repetition that marriage is between a man and a woman will reassure others.

But many Democrats would rather their man led, than followed.

Just because the timing of this announcement was unplanned and unwanted doesn't mean it was undebated within the White House.

They may have seen little alternative, but also recognise that President Obama gets some kudos for being the first president to support gay marriage.

It injects a little hope and change into a campaign where supporters strain to find much of either.