President Obama suggested that the Supreme Court could take the arguments presented in his brief against California’s Proposition 8 as reasoning to overturn bans on same-sex marriage in other states.
In response to questioning from the Chicago Tribune’s Christi Parsons, Obama said his administration has articulated a position that if any state — not just California — has a law withholding rights from same-sex couples, there should be a compelling reason for it in order to withstand constitutional scrutiny.
“Now, the court may decide that if it doesn’t apply in this case, it probably can’t apply in any case,” Obama said. “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.”
Obama also maintained in his remarks that Solicitor General Donald Verrilli was addressing the issue of Prop 8 in his remarks because that is the question before the court.
“The Solicitor General in his institutional role going before the Supreme Court is obliged to answer the specific question before them.,” Obama said. “And the specific question presented before the court right now is whether Prop 8 and the California law is unconstitutional.”
Richard Socarides, a gay New York advocate who has called on Obama to participate in the Prop 8 lawsuit, said the brief itself coupled with Obama’s remarks demonstrate he’s in favor of marriage equality throughout the country.
“It’s clear from the brief and the president’s comments that he believes in equal marriage rights for every American no matter where you live,” Socarides said. “That’s our goal and his.”
Fred Sainz, vice president of communications at the Human Rights Campaign, said he doesn’t need to review Obama’s comments because the brief already presented an expansive view on marriage equality.
“I don’t need to interpret the president’s words,” Sainz said. “What matters is that the official position of the United States government is now that marriage discrimination is unconstitutional.”
The full transcript of the exchange follows:
CHICAGO TRIBUNE: 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?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: 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.
TRIBUNE: 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?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: 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.
Watch the video here (courtesy Think Progress)