by Jeremy Leaming
Although it may make little difference in states bent on barring same-sex marriage, President Obama made a historic announcement today on marriage equality, becoming as TPM notes the “first sitting president to come out in support of legal same-sex marriage.”
President Obama told ABC News, “At a certain point, I’ve just concluded that for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.” (Picture is linked to video excerpt of the president’s interview.)
The president’s comments come on the heels of the North Carolina vote in favor of a constitutional ban on marriage equality, and Vice President Joe Biden’s recent statement that he is “absolutely comfortable” with same-sex marriage.
The president defended his record of advancing equality, noting, “I’ve always been adamant that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly and equally. And that’s why in addition to everything we’ve done in this administration, rolling back ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ so that outstanding Americans can serve our country, whether it’s no longer defending the Defense Against Marriage Act, which tried to federalize what historically has been state law, I’ve stood on the broader side of equality for the LGBT community.”
But Obama said he “hesitated on gay marriage in part because I thought that civil unions would be sufficient,” by giving gay couples the many rights that legally married couples enjoy. The president added that he was “sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people the word ‘marriage’ was something that invoked very powerful traditions, religious beliefs, and so forth.”
Before announcing his support of marriage equality, Obama reflected more on the issues that went into his thinking on the matter. “But, I have to tell you that over the course of several years, as I talked to friends and family and neighbors; when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed, monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together. When I think about those soldiers, airmen or marines, sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf, and yet feel constrained, even now that ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is gone because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage.”
Paul M. Smith, the Supreme Court litigator who successfully argued against the Texas sodomy law in the landmark high court opinion, Lawrence v. Texas, told ACSblog, "The president has a deep-seated desire to be a uniter, finding ways to bring people together."
Smith, a partner at Jenner & Block, and former chair of the ACS Board, continued, "As he explained in the interveiw, his prior position was an effort to provide LGBT Americans with equality without upsetting those for whom allowing use of the term 'marriage' is emotionally charged. What he has come to accept is that there is no equality in separate-but-equal. There are always first-class and second-class citizens when you draw those kinds of lines."
Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, a group that advances marriage equality, lauded Obama's comments as marking a “historic turning point for the freedom to marry movement.”
Wolfson, however, noted the daunting obstacles to equality. “Forty-four states continue to exclude same-sex couples from marriage and because of the federal so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the civil marriages of thousands of same-sex couples are not respected by the federal government, thus depriving families of crucial safety-net of federal protections and responsibilities.”