News Analysis: How the HHS Contraception Coverage Decision and Marriage Equality Are Related

Today, White House press secretary Jay Carney spent a significant amount of the White House press briefing defending the Health and Human Services Department’s decision regarding requiring health plans — including some offered by religious-backed entities — to include contraception coverage against criticism from religious advocates and adherents, congressional Republicans and Republican presidential candidates by saying the decision was about ensuring that “women hav[e] access to important health care services no matter where they work.”

Thumbnail image for Screen shot 2012-02-07 at 2.21.46 PM.pngCarney avoided, however, answering a question posed to him by Metro Weekly about President Obama’s views on marriage equality — which Carney said on Feb. 7 “involve[] his faith” — and whether Obama has based “other decisions about providing protections and civil responsibilities” on his faith.

Carney responded that the statement was nothing new, saying, “I am in no way going further than anything the President himself has said about his views on this issue.”

The response, however, said nothing about the implication in Carney’s Feb. 7 statement, which was that faith informed Obama’s views on whether civil marriage equality, sought by many advocates and allies, should be extended to same-sex couples.

The decision, though obviously not Obama’s alone, does have an impact on the access LGBT people and their families have to many government services. And, while the religious exemption for places of worship in the HHS decision shows the administration in that situation allowing an exception based on faith to a generally applicable rule, Obama’s marriage position, as it stands, is one of allowing faith to create the generally applicable rule — regardless of the access to important services that such a view might deny LGBT people.

As detailed in a recent report from the Movement Advancement Project, Family Equality Council and Center for American Progress, access to important services — health care and otherwise — is regularly denied by the federal government to families headed by same-sex couples because of marital prohibitions on same-sex couples and, in jurisdictions where same-sex couples can marry, the Defense of Marriage Act.

As the report noted as to childcare and early child education assistance such as Head Start, for example, “Due to DOMA, even same-sex couples who are married in their state will not be recognized as such for these federal programs.”

The president has said that he is “evolving” on the question of marriage equality, and Carney reiterated on Feb. 7 of Obama’s view, “[A]s 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 [something] to say about that issue.”

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Here’s the full question and answer from today:

     Q    Yesterday, regarding the President’s position on the right of same-sex couples to marry, you said that this is a process that involves his faith. What other decisions about providing protections and civil responsibilities has the President based upon a decision on his faith?

     MR. CARNEY:  I want to be clear — and I appreciate the question — that I was simply referring to statements the President had made in the past about this issue.  And it’s not about — I don’t want to — I am in no way going further than anything the President himself has said about his views on this issue.  And I want to be clear, and thank you for the opportunity to be clear on this.

     What I want to add about yesterday is that, as you know, the President has long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same-sex couples. He believes strongly that protections should not be taken away from committed gay and lesbian couples who want to take care of their families.

     And while we don’t comment on specific litigation, that is his general position on this, as I think you know and have reported on.

[Image: Screen capture of White House press secretary Jay Carney at the Feb. 7, 2012, White House press briefing.]

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