January 22, 2013 | by Chris Johnson
White House still says marriage not a federal issue
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney

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

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney maintained on Tuesday that President Obama’s LGBT remarks in his inaugural speech weren’t an attempt to nationalize the issue of marriage.

“The President believes that it’s an issue that should be addressed by the states,” Carney said in response to a question from Politico’s Reid Epstein.

Mainstream media outlets asked Carney several questions to clarify Obama’s views on marriage because of the LGBT references he made in his inaugural address, which included an assertion that “our gay brothers and sisters” should be treated equally under the law “for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

NBC News’ Kristen Welker was first to ask whether the remarks — which suggested a national call to support marriage equality — represent a shift in Obama’s way of thinking from his previous position that marriage should be left to the states and not handled at the federal level.

“The President’s position on this has been clear in terms of his personal views,” Carney replied. “He believes that individuals who love each other should not be barred from marriage. He talks about this not about religious sacraments, but civil marriage. And that continues to inform his beliefs. We have taken position on various efforts to restrict the rights of Americans, which he generally thinks is a bad idea.”

Carney indicated that Obama believes Section 3 of DOMA, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage, is unconstitutional based on the belief that the federal government shouldn’t be involved in marriage.

“One of the reasons why we believe that Section 3 of DOMA is not constitutional is because we should not be addressing it in that way,” Carney said.

Pressed by NBC News on whether the remarks mean the Obama administration will participate in litigation before the Supreme Court challenging California’s Proposition 8, Carney provided no updates beyond his earlier stated non-anwers. The Justice Department has until Feb. 28 to file a friend-of-the-court brief in the lawsuit.

“Well, as you know, the administration is not party to that case and I have nothing more for you on that,” Carney said. “We have, as you, know through the Department of Justice taken an active role in DOMA cases, which is why I can tell you the things I told you about that. But on this [Prop] 8 case, we’re not involved.”

Carney more clearly articulated that Obama believe marriage is a state issue, not a federal issue, in a response a follow-up question from Politico before reiterating other tenets of Obama’s belief on marriage.

“As you know, and I can make it clear, the President’s personal view is that it’s wrong to prevent couples who are in loving, committed relationships and want to marry from doing so,” Carney said. “The values that the President cares most deeply about are how we treat one another, and respect one another. For him, it just boils down to treating others the way that we would want to be treated ourselves and the President has made it absolutely clear that his views are about civil marriage, as I said, not religious sacraments.”

The White House clarification is consistent with the views Obama expressed on marriage just before Election Day in an MTV interview when he said, “There’s some other states that are still having that debate, I think for us to try to legislate federally into this area is probably the wrong way to go.”

Earlier during the briefing, Carney also expanded on Obama’s position on LGBT rights in response to a question from Fox News’ Ed Henry, who noted the White House seemed to be breaking up the speech to please certain constituency groups while asking if the White House could produce more specifics on a plan for climate change.

“He will build on the progress that was made in achieving equality for LGBT Americans,” Carney said. “Again that is not a proposition that he believes should be embraced only by one political party or faction of the country because there’s a link here between the March on Washington, and Seneca Falls and Stonewall. The pursuit of our equal rights is one that Democrats and Republicans have worked on together.”

A brief transcript of the exchange between reporters and Carney follows.

NBC News: Also, yesterday during the inaugural address the President said “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law.” As the President has said that same-sex marriage is an issue that should be worked out at the state level, does this suggest that he now believes that it should be worked out at the federal level?

Jay Carney: The President’s position on this has been clear in terms of his personal views. He believes that individuals who love each other should not be barred from marriage. He talks about this not about religious sacraments, but civil marriage. And that continues to inform his beliefs. We have taken position on various efforts to restrict the rights of Americans, which he generally thinks is a bad idea. And you know his position on Section 3 of DOMA, but the overall principle that we should not discriminate or treat differently LGBT Americans is one that he believes in deeply.

NBC News: But is it something that should be litigated at the federal level?

Carney: One of the reasons why we believe that Section 3 of DOMA is not constitutional is because we should not addressing be it in that way.

NBC News: What about Proposition 8? Will he now actively move to oppose Proposition 8 now that the Supreme Court has —

Carney: Well, as you know, the administration is not party to that case and I have nothing more for you on that. We have, as you, know through the Department of Justice taken an active role in DOMA cases, which is why I can tell you the things I told you about that. But on this Section 8 case, we’re not involved.

Politico: Does the President believe that gay marriage should be a state issue or a federal issue?

Carney: I think I addressed that. The President believes that it’s an issue that should be addressed by the states.

As you know, and I can make it clear, the president’s personal view is that it’s wrong to prevent couples who are in loving, committed relationships and want to marry from doing so. The values that the President cares most deeply about are how we treat one another, and respect one another. For him, it just boils down to treating others the way that we would want to be treated ourselves and the President has made it absolutely clear that his views are about civil marriage, as I said, not religious sacraments.

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

12 Comments
  • I'm not a constitutional authority, but as far as I know, marriage itself is NOT a federal issue, but should be determined at the state level. However, "Equal Protection" under the law applies not only at the federal level, but in all 50 states, and IS a federal issue, as is immigration. So what's being done to same-sex binational couples by DOMA results from the unconstitutional law DOMA. Plus, states not permitting all citizens to marry, violates the Equal Protection clause of the federal constitution, denying same-sex couples the same benefits, rights and privileges given to heterosexual married couples. I believe this is what the President means.

  • …And I believe you are only making excuses for him.

  • There are no “Federal Marriages”. Each state decides on which two people can enter into marriage. The Government would have no choice but to recognize same-sex marriage if it wasn’t for DOMA. DOMA was passed before any state legalized same-sex marriage.

    DOMA will fall this year and people in marriage equality states will enjoy Federal benefits only in those states. People in the military will have their same-sex marriage recognized in any state they reside.

  • … states not permitting all citizens to marry, violates the Equal Protection clause of the federal constitution, denying same-sex couples the same benefits, rights and privileges given to heterosexual married couples. I believe this is what the President means.
    **********
    Hawaiian or not, even a president has to wear credible footwear.

    If that’s the case– given the WH’s dance moves around Prop 8′s Equal Protection argument– President Obama’s position, as stated by Carney, is not tenable– and WAAY NOT credible.

    Worse still, the president is all but inviting SCOTUS to vote against Prop 8′s Equal Protection argument with this shameful WH Press-parsing.

    Romney and his flip-flops were rejected by the voters. The WH valet should provide the president credible footwear.

    (PDQ please, as oral arguments are just about 60 days hence.)

  • With the issues that require a greater need of attention and importance, i do not see a need to put this adgenda on the front burner nor should the White House. Its not like the world is going to come to an end for same sex seekers. Lets get real! If you want to wear a dress today, wear that dress. If you want to wear pants tomorrow, wear pants. There are far more policies requiring immediate attention that affect more lives than just gay people and their world.

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