As Nick Gillespie anticipated earlier this afternoon, President Obama today explicitly endorsed gay marriage for the first time (since 1996, anyway), telling ABC News:

Over the course of several years, as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors, when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don't Ask Don't Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage—at a certain point I’ve 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.

As I noted in my column today, Obama had previously endorsed "civil unions" with "all the rights" and "all the benefits" of marriage for gay couples but had carefully avoided the m-word. Now he has dropped that distinction.

The Washington Post notes that gay supporters are conspicuous among Obama's biggest fundraisers. Obama's clarification should help him attract young voters, a large majority of whom support gay marriage, but could hurt him in swing states by discouraging black voters (who mostly oppose gay marriage) from turning out.

Mitt Romney, for once, is not changing his position.

Obama said he still thinks states should be free to define marriage as they see fit, which suggests he is not endorsing the constitutional argument against California's Proposition 8, although he opposed the initiative before it passed. He also opposed the constitutional ban on gay marriage (and gay civil unions) that North Carolina voters overwhelmingly approved yesterday, which did not quite jibe with his explanation that he is against abolishing marriage rights once they've been recognized (since North Carolina already had a statutory ban).