WASHINGTON — President Obama explained some of his reasoning behind Thursday’s decision to weigh in on the challenge to California’s Proposition 8 marriage amendment, saying, “I felt it was important for us to articulate what I believe and what this administration stands for.”
On the issue of marriage equality broadly, he said at a Friday news conference, “I think that the same evolution that I’ve gone through is an evolution that the country as a whole has gone through.”
Tying his evolution on marriage to the nation’s views, Obama put into effect one of his regularly used tools: Organizing public opinion to back his view, to bring people along with him rather than to force the issue on his own.
This is not the first time the president has sought to take this route with advancing LGBT rights. The process utilized in the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” gave Pentagon and military leadership the space and time, through the year-long internal review of repeal implementation, to become comfortable with the idea and go through an evolution of their own.
Saying that the Supreme Court “called the question” when it took the Proposition 8 case, Obama said Friday, “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.”
Here’s the full question and answer:
Q Mr. President, your administration weighed in yesterday on the Proposition 8 case. A few months ago it looked like you might be averse to doing that, and I just wondered if you could talk a little bit about your deliberations and how your thinking evolved on that. Were there conversations that were important to you? Were there things that you read that influenced your thinking?
THE PRESIDENT: As everybody here knows, last year, upon a long period of reflection, I concluded that we cannot discriminate against same-sex couples when it comes to marriage; that the basic principle that America is founded on — the idea that we’re all created equal — applies to everybody, regardless of sexual orientation, as well as race or gender or religion or ethnicity.
And I think that the same evolution that I’ve gone through is an evolution that the country as a whole has gone through. And I think it is a profoundly positive thing. So that when the Supreme Court essentially called the question by taking this case about California’s law, I didn’t feel like that was something that this administration could avoid. I felt it was important for us to articulate what I believe and what this administration stands for.
And although I do think that we’re seeing, on a state-by-state basis, progress being made — more and more states recognizing same-sex couples and giving them the opportunity to marry and maintain all the benefits of marriage that heterosexual couples do — when the Supreme Court asks, do you think that the California law, which doesn’t provide any rationale for discriminating against same-sex couples other than just the notion that, well, they’re same-sex couples, 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.
Q And given the fact that you do hold that position about gay marriage, I wonder if you thought about just — once you made the decision to weigh in, why not just argue that marriage is a right that should be available to all people of this country?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, that’s an argument that I’ve made personally. The Solicitor General in his institutional role going before the Supreme Court is obliged to answer the specific question before them. And the specific question presented before the Court right now is whether Prop 8 and the California law is unconstitutional.
And what we’ve done is we’ve put forward a basic principle, which is — which applies to all equal protection cases. Whenever a particular group is being discriminated against, the Court asks the question, what’s the rationale for this — and it better be a good reason. And if you don’t have a good reason, we’re going to strike it down.
And what we’ve said is, is that same-sex couples are a group, a class that deserves heightened scrutiny, that the Supreme Court needs to ask the state why it’s doing it. And if the state doesn’t have a good reason, it should be struck down. That’s the core principle as applied to this case.
Now, the Court may decide that if it doesn’t apply in this case, it probably can’t apply in any case. There’s no good reason for it. If I were on the Court, that would probably be the view that I’d put forward. But I’m not a judge, I’m the President. So the basic principle, though, is let’s treat everybody fairly and let’s treat everybody equally. And I think that the brief that’s been presented accurately reflects our views.