June 27, 2011 | by Chris Johnson
More scrutiny of Obama’s marriage views

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

President Obama’s position on marriage equality came under renewed scrutiny Monday during a press briefing at the White House when press secretary Jay Carney was asked about California’s Proposition 8, which overturned marriage rights for same-sex couples in 2008.

A Wall Street Journal reporter asked if Obama’s belief that marriage should be left to the states means California voters should decide for themselves whether or not to legalize same-sex marriage.

“I’m not disagreeing with that interpretation,” Carney said. “But he has said quite clearly, as he did with the [Defense of Marriage Act] decision, and as he did on Thursday that he believes that it’s for the states to decide.”

On Thursday — one day before New York legalized same-sex marriage —Obama reiterated his view that marriage is a state issue during an LGBT fundraiser in New York City.

In June 2008, the Alice B. Toklas Club in San Francisco announced that it had received a letter from then-Democratic presidential candidate Obama reading, “And that is why I oppose the divisive and discriminatory efforts to amend the California Constitution, and similar efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution or those of other states.”

Asked to clarify Carney’s comments on Monday, Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, replied, “The president has long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same-sex couples and believes strongly in stopping efforts designed to take rights away. That is why he opposed the Federal Marriage Amendment and Proposition 8.”

After voters approved Prop 8 and state litigation seeking to overturn the ban failed, the American Foundation for Equal Rights filed a federal lawsuit challenging the marriage ban. Last year, a U.S. district court in San Francisco determined that Proposition 8 violated the U.S. Constitution. The lawsuit is on appeal, so the fate of Prop 8 remains unknown. Some advocates say Obama’s position on marriage could have an impact on how courts examine the issue.

Carney was cautious about saying more about the president’s position on the marriage ban and maintained that Obama “very strongly supports equal rights.”

“I’m not going to put words into his mouth applying to another state,” Carney said. “You can analyze that because I haven’t heard him say that. But obviously, the DOMA decision, what he said in New York is about his belief — our belief that this is a matter the states should decide.”

In February, Obama announced that he would no longer defend DOMA in court because he believes the statute is unconstitutional. At the fundraiser on Thursday, Obama indicated he believes DOMA is unconstitutional because it interferes with a state’s right to regulate marriage.

Later, during the briefing, the issue of same-sex marriage emerged again when reporter Bill Press asked how the president can square his belief that marriage should be left to the states while at the same time saying he believes same-sex couples deserves the same rights as opposite-sex couples.

“Well, look, I’m not going to — the president has made his position clear,” Carney replied. “It’s not very useful for us to have this debate. I think the president spoke about this on Thursday, he’s spoken about it — sorry — a number of times in the past.”

Pressed further on whether Obama has “missed an opportunity” to endorse same-sex marriage prior to New York’s decision to legalize gay nuptials, Carney replied, “Again, the president — the president’s record on issues involving and of concern to the LGBT community is exemplary and we are very proud of it. He continues to fight on behalf of that community for the rights, for equal rights, and his position on New York, he, himself, rather than his press secretary, spoke at length about just a few nights ago.”

Obama has held various positions on same-sex marriage. In 1996, when running to become an Illinois state senator, Obama in a questionnaire response to what is now the Windy City Times wrote, “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.”

But during his 2008 presidential campaign, Obama said he believes marriage is between one man and one woman and backed civil unions for gay couples. Since October, Obama has suggested he could evolve on the marriage issue, but he has yet to endorse gay nuptials.

A partial transcript of the exchange between reporters and Carney during the White House news briefing follows:

Wall Street Journal: …Does that mean he also respects the outcome of democracy at work in California where voters decided to reject the idea of gay marriage?

Jay Carney: I think as you saw in the decision we announced … this administration would no longer be participants defending the Defense of Marriage Act because we don’t believe it’s constitutional. That is precisely because of his belief that this a matter that needs to be decided by the states. So without commenting on a particular other state, I think we’ve been making that clear with regard to the action in New York. …

I’m not going to put words into his mouth applying to another state. You can analyze that because I haven’t heard him say that. But obviously, the DOMA decision, what he said in New York is about his belief — our belief that this is a matter the states should decide.

Journal: And the central argument in the challenge to Proposition 8 by supporters of same-sex marriage rights is that this isn’t something that should be decided state-by-state, but there are federal rights involved —

Carney: The president very strongly supports equal rights and he’s made that clear as well, and he said it again in New York at the event that we’re discussing. …

I don’t really have a lot I can say about Proposition 8 with regards to what the president said last week. I’m not willing to go to what the president didn’t discuss. I can talk about we he did discuss.

Journal: But the proper reading of what he said — it sounds what you’re saying, and I want to be clear, is that, yes, this is up to the states, and if New York decides that they want to allow same-sex marriage, great, if California decides that they don’t want to, then that’s their decision as well.

Carney: Well, yeah, I can’t improve upon the words that the president delivered publicly — whatever night that was — Thursday night. I’m not disagreeing with that interpretation. But he has said quite clearly, as he did with the DOMA decision, and as he did on Thursday that he believes that it’s for the states to decide.

Bill Press: I want to come back to the same-sex marriage issue, if I can. If the opportunity to enjoy the same right as same-sex couples as straight couples is a basic civil right, how can you square that with saying we leave it up to the states?

Carney: Well, look, I’m not going to — the president has made his position clear. It’s not very useful for us to have this debate. I think the president spoke about this on Thursday, he’s spoke about it — sorry — a number of times in the past. So, you can take it to other places, but I think …

Press: But let me ask this, with New York being the largest state so far to recognize same-sex marriage, are you concerned that the president have missed his opportunity to lead on this issue?

Carney: Again, the president — the president’s record on issues involving and of concern to the LGBT community is exemplary and we are very proud of it. He continues to fight on behalf of that community for the rights, for equal rights, and his position on New York, he, himself, rather than his press secretary, spoke at length about just a few nights ago.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

5 Comments
  • Peter Rosenstein

    The President and his advisors are only going to get more tongue tied on this. So he should just fully evolve and take the plunge and endorse same-sex marriage. In the long run it will be much easier and less of an issue. Most of us believe it is only a political issue for him anyway and the polls are now showing a majority of the country favors marriage-equality.

  • Yeah, absolutely. It’s a big job for a big country with lots of POLITICAL issues. This is a political blunder by Plouffe, Axelrod and Gibbs… or maybe a *trial baloon*, as they just don’t get it. Begala pointed out on AC360 that LGBT people gave a higher percentage of their vote to Kerry in 04 than to Obama in 08, and those Obama operatives ought to be reminded of that.

    Presidents always prioritize their squeaky wheels. And we’re not even squeaking yet for 2012. LGBT people are kidding themselves if they think even a LGBT-beloved President Obama is going to have any incentive AFTER 2012 to “make history” with a favorable marriage equality position. With a two-term limit, either way, Obama becomes a lame duck the day after the election. If re-elected, Obama’s power to influence wanes a little bit with each passing day– and everyone in power in DC knows it.

    He and (and probably, we) will want him to conserve that waning influence for liberal SCOTUS replacements, e.g. Our opportunity for specific, effective policy demands upon the president is now, during THIS campaign… or settle for a lot less and wait until 2016.

  • I could not disagree more with the previous commentors, respectfully.

    Let us distinguish between statements and actions. Surely we are intelligent enough as a group to understand where Obama stands, especially after observing the trail Obama has boldly blazed with a number of actions in our favor, and taking more personal political risks in doing so than any other sitting politician ever.

    Looking forward, Gays cannot benefit from the obvious (even if unstated) positions of Obama if he is not re-elected in 2012. Any and all candidates must calculate their poll ratings and position themselves as they see best. This is a Political Fact of Life – like it or not, and noone reading this should take the position of understanding those calculations better than Barack Obama.

    Does anyone, who is wanting more progress, really think that criticizing Obama will help him, or his gay-Hating opponent, whomever that may be, in the 2012 campaigns? I for one, will not be Slowing or Reversing our progress, nor aiding our enemies, by fighting against the ONLY sitting President ever to get us to this point in history. I know without a blink of an eye who I will be supporting. I will not bite the hand that feeds me.

    What ever will be gained if in professing this or that, if a Conservative President were to take up the defense of DOMA again in 2012, or to give an Executive Order to Suspend Implementation of the DADT Rollout, etc, etc? The answer is Nothing.

    While there is understandable anxiety for more progress, let us also have the balanced perspective to be able to look at where we are, and where we have come in just 2+ short years.

    In my humble opinion, if Obama must meter out his statements in order to win 2012 and to take us forward, while we all know that he really does support us, then I will trust the campaign expertise of the man who did win the last election, and the one who has risked personal cred to help us so much.

    • I have to agree 100% with you, blue-heron.

      I’ve deliberately avoided commenting on this, mostly because I feel there’s been far too much unnecessary and unpleasant mud-slinging between those in the gay community who support Obama and those who don’t.

      I, like you, simply look to what his administration HAS achieved for our community since he’s taken office and he has, undeniably, done far more to help the GLBT community than any prior President I can name; certainly far more than McCain would have given us, had he won the election. And that’s why I still, to this very day, completely fail to understand why so many of us are so incredulously willing and ready to turn their backs on him.

      Deep inside, I truly believe that President Obama does support equal marriage. What I personally think is keeping him from taking more of a vocal stand on it, however, is the fear that doing so might very well cost him a second term. We’ve all seen what religiously motivated right-wing groups like the Knights of Columbus, Focus on the Family, the National Organization for Marriage, and the Family Research Council have all done in the past to destroy any and all attempts at furthering equality. What’s to stop these bigots from trying that again if our President comes out in full support of marriage equality BEFORE the 2012 elections? These groups will do absolutely everything within their power to ensure that man never got re-elected.

      I could very well be wrong. But it’s the one answer I constantly find myself going back to.

  • Peter the saint

    It was NOT a State issue when my dad died, and my mom, his spouse, continued to receive his FEDERAL Social Security benefits… No. THAT marriage was a Federal issue. But MY marriage is not a Federal issue?!?!?!?!?! Well, screw you too, then. Obviously, our “queer” relationships stink in the eyes of our Federal government and leaders like Clinton and Biden and Obama. The words “mean-spirited” come to mind…

© Copyright Brown, Naff, Pitts Omnimedia, Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.
Directory powered by Business Directory Plugin