White House Press Secretary Jay Carney faced a flurry of questions Tuesday about President Obama’s evolving position on same-sex marriage and his reaction to the court decision that California’s Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.
In response to the questioning, Carney said he didn’t have a comment on the decision, although he noted the president has ”long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts that deny rights and benefits to same-sex couples.”
A total of six news outlets asked Carney about marriage and the Proposition 8 decision: Reuters, the Wall Street Journal, NBC News, the Huffington Post, American Urban Radio and the Washington Blade.
Under questioning from the Blade, Carney dodged an inquiry about whether Obama — who came out against Prop 8 when it was on the ballot in 2008 and called it “unnecessary” — also believes the measure is unconstitutional.
“I’m not going to comment on litigation particularly as here where we are not party to it, but the president’s positions on these issues writ large are well known, and he’s long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny right and benefits to same-sex couples,” Carney said.
Pressed by the Blade further on whether Obama’s lack of support for marriage equality but opposition to “divisive and discriminatory” efforts such as Proposition 8, a ban on same-sex marriage, represents an inconsistency, Carney said he didn’t have an update on the president’s position on same-sex marriage, but explained the distinction.
“I can tell you that divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits is something this president has long opposed,” Carney said. “And I think that’s an important point to make. These are proactive and deliberate efforts to deny benefits and to be discriminatory.”
Asked by NBC News whether the Ninth Circuit court decision will inform Obama’s evolution on marriage, Carney said the ruling had come out too recently for him to provide an answer.
“The decision was made within the hour before I came out here, so I haven’t had that conversation,” Carney said.
American Urban Radio pressed Carney further about when Obama’s evolution would come to an end and whether that would take place before June or the general election. Carney, however, said he doesn’t “have a timetable.”
“As the president discussed when he answered this question a while back, this is a process that involves his faith and the way he views these issues,” Carney said.
Asked whether he’s had conversations with members of the LGBT community on this issue, Carney said he isn’t aware of any talks.
“The president has a lot of conversations with a lot of people, and I can’t say one way or the other whether or not he’s had that discussion with anybody,” Carney said. “He may have, but I’m not aware of it.”
Meanwhile, GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney condemned the Prop 8 court ruling.
“Today, unelected judges cast aside the will of the people of California who voted to protect traditional marriage,” Romney’s statement said. “This decision does not end this fight, and I expect it to go to the Supreme Court. That prospect underscores the vital importance of this election and the movement to preserve our values. I believe marriage is between a man and a woman and, as president, I will protect traditional marriage and appoint judges who interpret the Constitution as it is written and not according to their own politics and prejudices.”
R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the National Log Cabin Republicans, said Romney was issuing a “kneejerk” reaction to the ruling.
“In a time when conservatives agree that the institution of marriage is in need of support, Republicans should celebrate gay and lesbian Americans embracing the ideals of marriage and creating families,” Cooper said. “Gov. Romney’s comments attacking the court for striking down Proposition 8 reflect an unfortunate kneejerk opposition to expanding liberty and a poorly calculated political effort to appeal to a shrinking base of primary voters opposed to marriage equality.”
A transcript of the exchange between reporters and Carney on the marriage issue follows:
Reuters: Does the White House have a reaction to the appeals court ruling on California’s gay marriage ban?
Jay Carney: I don’t have a comment on litigation in general, and this litigation, to which we are not a party. Beyond that, I can say that the president has long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts that deny rights and benefits to same-sex couples.
Washington Blade: I just want to follow up on the Prop 8 ruling. Back in 2008, candidate Obama came out against Proposition 8 when it was on the ballot, calling it “unnecessary.” I’m just wondering if the president shares the belief that the measure is also unconstitutional.
Carney: Well, again, I’m not going to comment on litigation particularly as here where we are not party to it, but the president’s positions on these issues writ large are well known, and he’s long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same-sex couples. But I don’t have anything more for you on that.
Blade: I want to follow up really quickly on that, though. You said the president opposes “divisive and discriminatory” efforts against same-sex couples, but the effort here — the issue in question is marriage, so isn’t it inconsistent for the president to not support same-sex marriage and also to be against such measures?
Carney: Well, I don’t have any update for you on that particular issue in regards to the president’s views. I can tell you that divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits is something this president has long opposed. And I think that’s an important point to make. These are proactive and deliberate efforts to deny benefits and to be discriminatory.
Wall Street Journal: On Proposition 8, just in general, is it still the president’s view that same-sex marriage is an issue that should be decided by the states — each individual state?
Carney: However you might want to tease out an evolutionary position on this —
Journal: I’m just asking you what his position is. Has his position changed that states should make these decisions?
Carney: I have no announcement of any changes.
Journal: Given that that is his latest position that states should make the decision, why would he not be supportive of California making the decision through the vote of Proposition 8 to ban same-sex marriage?
Carney: Well, because he opposes divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same-sex couples. Again, I’m not commenting on specific litigation. I’m talking about his general opposition.
Journal: All sorts of states have banned same-sex marriage. Are all of those divisive and discriminatory as well?
Carney: I can’t at this moment stand here and analyze each one. I can just tell you the president’s long opposition to divisive and discriminatory efforts — you know his position. You know where it stands now with the issue of same-sex marriage, so I really don’t have much to add on it.
Journal: But there’s a fundamental inconsistency. Correct me if I’m wrong. If he says on one hand, it’s up to the state to decide, but those states who decide that they’re against it are divisive and discriminatory. So, I just wanted you correct me if I’m missing something.
Carney: Well, again I’m not offering a blanket. I’m talking about general efforts that are divisive and discriminatory. I’m not making an assessment on specific states or state laws.
Journal: How is this not just complete hypocrisy if he’s saying that it’s up to states to decide, but he won’t back a state that does make the decision?
Carney: Laura, I’m not going to comment on specific litigation or a specific state. I can say the president has long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny right and benefits to same-sex couples, and his overall record on the issue of LGBT rights is well known and is one that he’s very proud of.
NBC News: I want to try just one more on Proposition 8. How does today’s ruling on Proposition 8 inform the president’s view on same-sex marriage, which he said is evolving?
Carney: I just don’t have anything to add about that. The decision was made within the hour before I came out here, so I haven’t had that conversation.
NBC News: Without getting into the decision —
Carney: I don’t know. You’re asking me how his view is changed by this decision. I don’t know.
Huffington Post: I’m just curious how the president can be proactively against divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny people civil rights and not proactively be for the concept of marriage equality?
Carney: Sam, I totally appreciate the question. But I’m not here to announce a new position.
Huffington Post: I want just to illuminate the current position a little bit better.
Carney: Again, I would refer you to the comments the president had made on this issue. I don’t have any changes to provide to you.
American Urban Radio: When will we have a firm decision on this evolution? You have strong groups, groups that have strong thoughts and convictions on this, LGBT groups, you have religious groups, you have civil rights groups and so many others. Will we see a decision by June or before the general election on his evolution and his mindset on this?
Carney: I just don’t have a timetable to provide to you, April. I appreciate the question. As the president discussed when he answered this question a while back, this is a process that involves his faith and the way he views these issues. And as he said, and I won’t go beyond that, his views are evolving. But I don’t have an end point to announce to you or a date certain to tell you that he’ll have to say about that issue.
American Urban Radio: He has strong support from the LGBT community. Is he in consultation with many members of the community about this evolving mindset? When is the last time —
Carney: The president has a lot of conversations with a lot of people, and I can’t say one way or the other whether or not he’s had that discussion with anybody. He may have, but I’m not aware of it.
Watch the video of the Blade’s questioning with Carney here: