President Barack Obama elaborated on the Supreme Court brief filed by his administration yesterday in the Proposition 8 case, telling reporters today that same-sex couples must be treated equally and that if he were a Supreme Court justice he would argue broadly that state bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional.
"What we've done is put forward a basic principle, 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," Obama said.
Obama added that while the brief from Solicitor General Donald Verrilli does not call for same-sex marriage bans in all states to be struck down as a violation of the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection, that does not necessarily mean he personally believes the Supreme Court should not rule broadly against all same-sex marriage bans.
"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," Obama said of that basic principle. "If I were on the court, that'd probably be the view I'd put forward. But I'm not a judge, I'm the president."
Asked by Christi Parsons of the Chicago Tribune the reasoning for his decision to weigh in, the president said when the Supreme Court called the question by taking up the case he thought it was important to articulate what he and his administration stand for.
Noting progress being made on the state level, Obama said "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."
Although Obama's remarks were some of the strongest legal arguments articulated by the former law professor to date since he announced his support for same-sex marriage in May 2012, he did not go so far as to say the Supreme Court should rule that marriage for same-sex couples is a constitutional right.
Read the full exchange here:
Q: 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?
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.
Q: 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?
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.