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In State Of The Union, Obama Declares Marriage Equality A "Civil Right"

"I’ve seen something like gay marriage go from a wedge issue used to drive us apart to a story of freedom across our country, a civil right now legal in states that 7 in 10 Americans call home," the president said.

Last updated on January 20, 2015, at 11:08 p.m. ET

Posted on January 20, 2015, at 8:51 p.m. ET

AP Evan Vucci

WASHINGTON — President Obama declared his view that same-sex couples' right to marry is a "civil right" in Tuesday night's State of the Union address, the end of a long path the president has traveled on the issue.

"I've seen something like gay marriage go from a wedge issue used to drive us apart to a story of freedom across our country," he said, "a civil right now legal in states that 7 in 10 Americans call home."

The words came four days after the Supreme Court announced it would be taking up the issues of whether states can ban same-sex couples from marrying and whether they can refuse to recognize same-sex couples' marriages granted in other states in four cases to be heard later this spring.

Although Attorney General Eric Holder announced later that afternoon that the administration will be filing a brief in the case that supports a nationwide resolution of the issue in support of same-sex couples' marriage rights, Tuesday's comments are Obama's first reaction to the coming court hearing.

The decision to reference his support for a national resolution to the issue is a marked contrast to his position as a candidate in 2008, when he opposed marriage equality — instead supporting only civil unions for same-sex couples.

It wasn't until his re-election campaign in May 2012 that the president announced his personal support for marriage equality. Even then, however, questions remained about how he thought the legal issues now before the Supreme Court should be resolved.

When the court did hear the case over California's Proposition 8, the administration opposed the constitutionality of the marriage ban — but did so in a brief that was based on a limited argument that only would have ended bans in California and seven other states.

Now, the president will make clear that he has traveled the path to meet advocates at their goal: Marriage equality is a civil right.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.