Obama: I cannot imagine a constitutional justification for gay marriage bans

Barack Obama

Barack Obama

Signaling further evolution on the issue of marriage equality for gays and lesbians, President Barack Obama said he could not imagine a circumstance in which a state could legally justify banning same-sex marriage.

In an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, scheduled to air Wednesday evening on “Nightline,” Obama waded into an issue he initially said should be left to the states.

Barack Obama

“What I believe is that if the states don’t have a good justification for [banning same-sex marriage], then it probably doesn’t stand up to constitutional muster,” he said.

Following is a transcript of that segment of the interview, provided by ABC News:

George Stephanopoulos: Let me ask you a question about gay marriage. When Robin was here last spring, you came out in favor of gay marriage. But you also said at the time that you wanted it to be a state-by-state–

President Obama: Yeah. Yeah.

George Stephanopoulos: –issue, it would be a mistake to nationalize it. Do you still believe that, or do you now believe that gay marriage is a right guaranteed to all Americans by the Constitution?

President Obama: Well, I’ve gotta tell you that– in terms of practical politics, what I’ve seen is a healthy debate taking place state by state, and not every state has the exact same attitudes and cultural mores. And I– you know, my thinking was that this is traditionally a state issue and– that it will work itself out.

On the other hand– what I also believe is that the core principle that people don’t get discriminated against– that’s one of our core values. And it’s in our constitution. It’s in– the– you know, 14th Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause. And– from a legal perspective, the– the– the bottom line is, is that gays have historically been discriminated against and I do think that courts have to apply what’s called heightened scrutiny, where they take a careful look. If there’s any reason for– gays and lesbians to be treated differently, boy, the government better–

George Stephanopoulos: So banning gay marriage–

President Obama: –have a really good–

George Stephanopoulos: –is discrimination?

President Obama: Well, what I– what I believe is that– if– if the states don’t have a good justification for it, then it probably doesn’t stand up to constitutional muster

George Stephanopoulos: Can you imagine one?

President Obama: So– well, I can’t, personally. I cannot. That’s part of the conc– reason I said, ultimately, I think that– you know, same-sex couples should be able to marry. That’s my personal position. And, frankly, that’s the position that’s reflected– in the briefs that we filed– in the Supreme Court.

My hope is that– the Court looks at the evidence and– and in the California case, for example, the only reason presented for treating gays and lesbians differently was, “Well, they’re gay and lesbian.” There wasn’t– a real rationale beyond that. In fact– you know, all the other– rights and– and– responsibilities of– a civil union were identical to marriage.

It’s just you couldn’t call it marriage. Well, at that point, what you’re really sayin’ is– “We’re just gonna treat these folks differently because of who they are.” And– and I do not think– that’s– that’s who are as Americans. And– and frankly, I think– American attitudes have evolved, just like mine have– pretty substantially and fairly quickly, and I think that’s a good thing.

The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments later this month on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and Proposition 8, California’s 2008 voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage.

The Obama administration has submitted legal brief in both cases saying that it believes that Proposition 8 and DOMA are unconstitutional.

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