ABC News has only released one brief clip of Obama's conversation about gay marriage today, but it seems fairly clear from the network's coverage that his announcement amounts to much less than meets the eye. He now believes that gay couples should be able to marry. He doesn't believe they have a right to do so. This is like saying that black children and white children ought to attend the same schools, but if the people of Alabama reject that notion—what are you gonna do?
The key language in the ABC News write-up is this:
The president stressed that this is a personal position, and that he still supports the concept of states deciding the issue on their own.
On this afternoon's special broadcast, Jake Tapper echoed that point: "The president said he thought this was a state-by-state issue."
Well, before Roe v. Wade, abortion was a state-by-state issue, too. So was slavery. There are 44 states in which gay men and women are currently barred from marrying one another. Obama's position is that, while he would have voted the other way, those 44 states are perfectly within their rights to arbitrarily restrict the access of certain individuals to marriage rights based solely on their sexual orientation.
That is a half-assed, cowardly cop-out. There are currently at least three cases winding their way toward federal courts that address the issue of whether (among other things) the equal protection clause of the constitution guarantees gay men and women the same access to marriage rights as heterosexual men and women—the Proposition 8 case, in which David Boies and Ted Olson challenged California's ban on gay marriage, and several challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars gay men and woman from receiving federal marriage benefits and allows states to refuse to recognize valid gay marriages. Obama's Justice Department has admirably declined to defend the constitutionality of DOMA. But the position he enunciated today is in opposition to Boies and Olson: Obama is saying that if he were a judge, he would have rejected Boies and Olson's constitutional arguments and affirmed the right of Californians to enshrine bigotry in their state constitution.
Equality is not a state-by-state issue. There is no reason other than ignorance and hatred that two men can get married in New York and not North Carolina. At a time when vindictive hucksters are rolling out anti-gay marriage amendments across the nation, and when conflicting state and federal laws portend an insoluble morass of divorce, custody, and estate issues, and when gay Americans are turning to the U.S. Constitution and the courts to seek an affirmation of their humanity, "it's a state-by-state issue" is a shameful dodge.
Is it a politically wise dodge? Maybe. This was obviously a hastily arranged interview—we're told that ABC News' Robin Roberts, who is close to Michelle Obama, was only tapped in the last 48 hours by the White House to come down—designed to clean up the mess left by Biden's pro-gay marriage comments in as advantageous way as possible. And for Obama to declare that he considers North Carolina and other states' bans on gay marriage to be unconstitutional would probably energize the GOP base. But those bans are unconstitutional. And anyone who supports their legitimacy—as Obama just did, in no uncertain terms—even if they oppose the policy, is adopting the retrograde position in the contemporary gay marriage debate. Obama is moving backward, not forward.
[Image via Getty]