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Obama: U.S. is experiencing an evolution on same-sex marriage

Said there was no way he could avoid urging the Supreme Court to overturn California's ban on gay marriage
Friday, March 1, 2013

WASHINGTON — Citing the principle of equality that drove the nation’s founding, President Barack Obama spoke out Friday against California’s ban on gay marriage and said the Supreme Court should strike it down.

A day after his administration filed a friend-of-the-court brief unequivocally calling on the justices to strike down California’s Proposition 8 ballot measure, Obama said he felt there was no way for his administration to avoid the case.

“I felt it was important for us to articulate what I believe and what this administration stands for,” the president said.

President Barack Obama speaks to reporters in the White House briefing room in Washington, Friday, March 1, 2013.
Photo: Charles Dharapak, AP

The nation has gone through the same evolution he has gone through about how gay couples should be treated under the law, said Obama, who once opposed gay marriage but changed his position last year during his re-election campaign.

“I think this is a profoundly positive thing,” Obama said in a White House news conference.

The administration’s brief outlined a broad legal argument that could ultimately be applied to other state prohibitions across the country. Although it unequivocally calls on the justices to strike down California’s Proposition 8 ballot measure, it stops short of the soaring rhetoric on marriage equality President Barack Obama expressed in his inaugural address in January.

Still, it marks the first time a U.S. president has urged the high court to expand the right of gays and lesbians to wed.

Obama said the brief didn’t explicitly argue that gay marriage should be made legal in every state because the case before the court deals specifically with California.

“That’s an argument that I make, personally,” Obama said. “The court may decide that if it doesn’t apply in this case, it probably can’t apply in any case. There no good reason for it.”

The brief is not legally binding, though the government’s opinion could carry weight with the Supreme Court when it hears oral arguments on Proposition 8 in late March.

California is one of eight states that give gay couples all the benefits of marriage through civil unions or domestic partnership but don’t allow them to wed. The brief argues that in granting same-sex couples those rights, California has already acknowledged that gay relationships bear the same hallmarks as straight ones.

“They establish homes and lives together, support each other financially, share the joys and burdens of raising children, and provide care through illness and comfort at the moment of death,” the administration wrote.

The brief marks the president’s most expansive view of gay marriage and signals that he is moving away from his previous assertion that states should determine their own marriage laws. Obama, a former constitutional law professor, signed off on the administration’s legal argument last week following lengthy discussions with Attorney General Eric Holder and Solicitor General Donald Verrilli.

In a statement following the filing, Holder said “the government seeks to vindicate the defining constitutional ideal of equal treatment under the law.”

Obama’s position, if adopted by the court, would likely result in gay marriage becoming legal in the seven other states: Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon and Rhode Island.

In the longer term, the administration urges the justices to subject laws that discriminate on sexual orientation to more rigorous review than usual, as is the case for claims that laws discriminate on the basis of race, sex and other factors.

The Supreme Court has never given gay Americans the special protection it has afforded women and minorities. If it endorses such an approach in the gay marriage cases, same-sex marriage bans around the country could be imperiled.

Despite the potentially wide-ranging implications of the administration’s brief, it still falls short of what gay rights advocates and the attorneys who will argue against Proposition 8 had hoped for. Those parties had pressed the president to urge the Supreme Court to not only overturn California’s ban, but also declare all gay marriage bans unconstitutional.

Still, marriage equality advocates publicly welcomed the president’s legal positioning.

“Obama again asserted a bold claim of full equality for gay Americans, this time in a legal brief,” said Richard Socarides, an attorney and advocate. “If its full weight and reasoning are accepted by the Supreme Court, all anti-gay marriage state constitutional amendments will fall, and quickly.”

The National Organization for Marriage, a leading supporter of the California ban, rejected Obama’s arguments. Spokesman Thomas Peters said he expects the Supreme Court to uphold the votes of more than 7 million Californians to protect marriage, spokesman Thomas Peters said.

The president raised expectations that he would back a broad brief during his inaugural address on Jan. 21. He said the nation’s journey “is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law.”

“For if we are truly created equal, than surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well,” he added.

Obama has a complicated history on gay marriage. As a presidential candidate in 2008, he opposed the California ban but didn’t endorse gay marriage. He later said his personal views on gay marriage were “evolving.”

When he ran for re-election last year, Obama announced his personal support for same-sex marriage but said marriage was an issue that states, not the federal government, should decide.

Public opinion has shifted in support of gay marriage in recent years.

In May 2008, Gallup found that 56 percent of Americans felt same-sex marriages should not be recognized by the law as valid. By last November, 53 percent felt they should be legally recognized.

Gay marriage supporters see the Supreme Court’s hearing of Proposition 8, as well as a related case on the Defense of Marriage Act, as a potential watershed moment for same-sex unions.

In a well-coordinated effort, opponents of the California ban flooded the justices with friend-of-the-court briefs in recent days.

Among those filing briefs were 13 states, including four that do not now permit gay couples to wed, and more than 100 prominent Republicans, including GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman and Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Two professional football players who have been outspoken gay rights advocates also filed a brief in the California case. Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe and Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo urged the court to rule in favor of same-sex marriage.

The Supreme Court has several options to decide the case that would be narrower than what the administration is asking. The justices also could uphold the California provision, as opponents of gay marriage are urging.

One day after the Supreme Court hears the California case, the justices will hear arguments on provisions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman for the purpose of deciding who can receive a range of federal benefits.

The administration abandoned its defense of the act in 2011, but the measure will continue to be federal law unless it is struck down or repealed.

In a brief filed last week, the government said Section 3 of the act “violates the fundamental constitutional guarantee of equal protection” because it denies legally married same-sex couples many federal benefits that are available only to legally married heterosexual couples.

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18 more reader comments:

  1. Evolution? No wonder the religious types are against it.

    Posted on Friday, March 1, 2013 at 10:46am
  2. Ahhhhhhhh!!!!

    Posted on Friday, March 1, 2013 at 10:47am
  3. *Religious Right ^

    Posted on Friday, March 1, 2013 at 10:48am
  4. Most of the Religious Left isn’t hateful

    Posted on Friday, March 1, 2013 at 10:48am
  5. Unfortunately Obama can’t just tell Cali to do something and bam…new law. His powers are very limited. I support his thoughts though. Only thing I do support from this idiot its the right to marry anyone you want, otherwise he’s a idiot.

    Posted on Friday, March 1, 2013 at 10:56am
  6. I hate it when people call Obama an idiot. If Mitt Romney was president he’s the biggest idiot in the planet along with Bush W. Jr., Sarah Palin and O’Reilly combined.

    Posted on Friday, March 1, 2013 at 10:59am
  7. Mitt is an idiot, but you saying the same makes you better…how?

    Posted on Friday, March 1, 2013 at 11:01am
  8. My God….I thought this page had smart people…but you show hypocrisy when you like a status hating someone for calling Obama an idiot then you turn around and are AD GUILTY of it as I am….geesh

    Posted on Friday, March 1, 2013 at 11:36am
  9. EMBRACE the news and move on, people! This is good news……whether it’s called evolution or something else.

    Posted on Friday, March 1, 2013 at 1:09pm
  10. This is all great, but the president’s continued argument that equal civil rights should be decided by the states is ridiculous and he needs to get over it. Nothing less than equal civil rights on a national level is acceptable…

    Posted on Friday, March 1, 2013 at 8:12pm
  11. Did he evolve or did he explain why DoJ filed that amicus on Prop 8 when he said, “If the Supreme Court asks me or my attorney general or solicitor general, ‘Do we think that meets constitutional muster?’ — I felt it was important for us to answer that question honestly. And the answer is no,” which is what Obama said during the news conference when he was asked about Prop H8

    Posted on Friday, March 1, 2013 at 9:48pm
  12. First off just to create a clear and honest prefix to my position I have to say I’m a fiscal conservative that is often times appalled by other conservatives prehistoric, hateful, and in my opinion unchristian bigotry towards the JGBT community.

    I’m here tonight to pose a question. I always say if someone wants to know about me, they should ask me. Not my neighbor. So if my wording, or the manner in which I propose any questions is offensive please feel free to educate me. I in no way intend or would want to offend.

    I’ve been arguing with my concervative friends tonight that the constitution protect all Americans rights to individual freedom. I would like to be armed with more information in this debate. Anyone here willing to share some knowledge with me on effective ways to show them that the very rights some of them would so easily keep from the LGBT community, are the same rights they so strongly fight to protect for themselves? Thank you.

    Posted on Friday, March 1, 2013 at 10:33pm
  13. Just took the time to read the article “five reasons why the supreme courts decision on gay marriage will help republicans”. Answered some of my questions.

    Posted on Friday, March 1, 2013 at 10:46pm
  14. Good man, Leif.

    Posted on Friday, March 1, 2013 at 11:29pm
  15. Thank you Cassi. Not looking for compliments and am ignorant on many LGBT issues. I just can’t understand why people can’t understand that their personal convictions don’t make them better human beings than those who’s convictions differ from their own.

    Posted on Friday, March 1, 2013 at 11:49pm
  16. Silly question, what does the Q stand for?

    Posted on Friday, March 1, 2013 at 11:54pm
  17. Oh good. This will make everyone forget about his war record. When are the gays gonna be able to control the predator drones too FULL EQUALITY NOW!

    Posted on Saturday, March 2, 2013 at 12:40am
  18. Thanks Cori. Had no idea.

    Posted on Saturday, March 2, 2013 at 1:52pm