President Barack Obama endorsed same-sex marriage in his home state of Illinois on Saturday, expressing his support through a spokesman for expected legislation that would legalize marriage equality in the state.
Speaking to the Chicago Sun-Times, White House spokesman Shin Inouye said the president would vote for the measure if he was still serving in the Illinois General Assembly.
"While the president does not weigh in on every measure being considered by state legislatures, he believes in treating everyone fairly and equally, with dignity and respect," Inouye said. "As he has said, his personal view is that it's wrong to prevent couples who are in loving, committed relationships, and want to marry, from doing so. Were the president still in the Illinois State Legislature, he would support this measure that would treat all Illinois couples equally."
The Religious Freedom and Fairness Act could receive a vote as early as next month in the state Legislature, where Obama served as a state senator from 1997 to 2004 before being elected to the U.S. Senate.
The endorsement marked the first time Obama has expressed support for legislation to grant same-sex couples the right to marry and is an indication of where Obama stands on same-sex marriage legislation in other states. Through his re-election campaign, Obama endorsed same-sex marriage ballot measures last November in Maryland, Maine and Washington, though he largely avoided the preceding debate that brought those measures to the ballot.
Although the Illinois measure is expected to pass the state Senate, advocates expect it will face a harder fight in the House. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn has vowed to sign the legislation if it reaches his desk. The General Assembly approved a civil unions law in 2011.
Obama's endorsement of the Illinois legislation comes after he submitted a survey to Outlines (now called the Windy City Times) during his state Senate campaign in 1996 expressing his support for same-sex marriage. As Obama's national profile rose, his position on same-sex marriage changed. Last May, Obama announced he supported the right of same-sex couples to marry during an interview with ABC News.
Although Obama's evolution on marriage equality has been rapid and unyielding since his May announcement, broader questions still remain as to the president’s position on a key issue headed for the Supreme Court that could have widespread consequences.
Obama has yet to indicate whether he believes the Constitution protects the right of same-sex couples to marry — an argument the Supreme Court will consider when they hear the case challenging California's Proposition 8.
Plaintiffs in the case have urged the Obama administration to take a public stance on the case, and with lead attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies expected to raise that broad question in their arguments before the high court, they are urging President Obama to weigh in.
Asked by Metro Weekly at a press briefing on Dec. 11 if the administration would take a public stance on the broader questions raised by that case, White House press secretary Jay Carney demurred. In an interview with Time the following day for the magazine's annual "Person of the Year," Obama again refrained from weighing in.
"We are looking at the cases right now," Obama said. "I've already been very clear about DOMA, so there is no doubt that we would continue the position we're on, that DOMA is unconstitutional and should be struck down. And I think the Prop. 8 case, because the briefs are still being written, I should probably be careful about making any specific comments on it."