President Barack Obama elaborated further on his administration's decision to file a brief in the Proposition 8 case, telling George Stephanopoulos of ABC News in an interview set to air tonight that he believes the Constitution protects the right of same-sex couples to marry.
"What I believe is that if the states don't have a good justification for it, then it probably doesn't stand up to constitutional muster," Obama said of state marriage bans. According to Obama, he cannot imagine a constitutional justification for the high court upholding state bans on same-sex marriage.
Obama's latest comments stood in contrast to remarks he made to ABC's Robin Roberts in May 2012 when he announced his support for marriage equality. At the time, Obama said same-sex marriage was "an issue that is going to be worked out at the local level, because historically this has not been a federal issue, what's recognized as a marriage."
The Obama administration filed a "friend of the court" brief in the Proposition 8 case late last month, calling on the Supreme Court to declare California's marriage ban as unconstitutional. Although the brief did not call for the high court to strike down marriage bans in all states, it left open the door for the justices to do so. Speaking to reporters the day after the brief was filed, Obama said if he were a Supreme Court justice he would argue that state marriage bans are unconstitutional.
"If I were on the court, that'd probably be the view I'd put forward," Obama said. "But I'm not a judge, I'm the president."
The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the Proposition 8 case on March 26.
[Photo: Barack Obama endorses marriage equality in a May 9, 2012, interview with Robin Roberts (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)]
Read the exchange via ABC News here:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me ask you a question about gay marriage. When Robin was here last spring, you came out in favor of gay marriage. But you also said at the time that you wanted it to be a state-by-state–
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Yeah. Yeah.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: –issue, it would be a mistake to nationalize it. Do you still believe that, or do you now believe that gay marriage is a right guaranteed to all Americans by the Constitution?
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, I’ve gotta tell you that– in terms of practical politics, what I’ve seen is a healthy debate taking place state by state, and not every state has the exact same attitudes and cultural mores. And I– you know, my thinking was that this is traditionally a state issue and– that it will work itself out.
On the other hand– what I also believe is that the core principle that people don’t get discriminated against– that’s one of our core values. And it’s in our constitution. It’s in– the– you know, 14th Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause. And– from a legal perspective, the– the– the bottom line is, is that gays have historically been discriminated against and I do think that courts have to apply what’s called heightened scrutiny, where they take a careful look. If there’s any reason for– gays and lesbians to be treated differently, boy, the government better–
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: So banning gay marriage–
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: –have a really good–
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: –is discrimination?
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, what I– what I believe is that– if– if the states don’t have a good justification for it, then it probably doesn’t stand up to constitutional muster
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Can you imagine one?
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: So– well, I can’t, personally. I cannot. That’s part of the conc– reason I said, ultimately, I think that– you know, same-sex couples should be able to marry. That’s my personal position. And, frankly, that’s the position that’s reflected– in the briefs that we filed– in the Supreme Court.
My hope is that– the Court looks at the evidence and– and in the California case, for example, the only reason presented for treating gays and lesbians differently was, “Well, they’re gay and lesbian.” There wasn’t– a real rationale beyond that. In fact– you know, all the other– rights and– and– responsibilities of– a civil union were identical to marriage.
It’s just you couldn’t call it marriage. Well, at that point, what you’re really sayin’ is– “We’re just gonna treat these folks differently because of who they are.” And– and I do not think– that’s– that’s who are as Americans. And– and frankly, I think– American attitudes have evolved, just like mine have– pretty substantially and fairly quickly, and I think that’s a good thing.