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Advocates say court, not states, should decide on same-sex marriage

Updated

While Tuesday’s Supreme Court oral arguments marked a historic day in the evolution of the argument for gay marriage, NBC’s Pete Williams reported that the country’s highest judicial body seemed “not prepared to issue any kind of sweeping ruling about gay rights,” and that the justices seemed “worried about writing a decision applying to other states.”

But the option of letting states decide whether same-sex marriage should be legal doesn’t satisfy Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, who started the original appeal of California’s Proposition 8 four years ago.

“This is an argument we have a heard throughout our nation’s history, throughout the civil rights movement of the ’50s and ’60s. There were those who did not want progress. There were those that said, ‘slow down.’ And there were those that said, let states decide,” Griffin told msnbc contributor Chris Cillizza, guest host of Andrea Mitchell Reports Tuesday.

“Ultimately the Supreme Court decided in 1967, in Loving v. Virginia, that it was unconstitutional to prohibit a black woman from marrying a white man. And that took away those laws across this country. And had we waited on states like Mississippi to move, folks in those states might not have those rights. At the end of the day, our Constitution guarantees equal protection under the law for every American citizen, regardless of what side of a state border that one lives on,” Griffin said.

The California electorate approved the Proposition 8 ballot initiative limiting marriage to one-man, one-woman couples by a narrow margin in 2008–just 52% of the vote. The Supreme Court convened Tuesday to review the law after a federal appeals court’s last year that found the ban unconstitutional.

Challenging the law before the Supreme Court is a pair of unlikely partners: Attorneys David Boies and Ted Olson, who faced off on opposite sides of the courtroom during 2000’s historic Bush v. Gore case. Griffin described how former U.S. Solicitor General Olson, the Republican who delivered former President George W. Bush’s oral argument, came to find himself at odds with a majority of his party in supporting the gay marriage cause.

After Proposition 8 passed in California in 2008, Griffin said, “I and some colleagues of mine, Rob and Michele Reiner, and Kristina Schake, heard someone mention that Ted Olson might in fact share our view on marriage. I have to admit…I was initially doubtful. But I began a series of conversations with Ted and ultimately discovered that he believed in it personally. And he believed in it as a fundamental constitutional right,” Griffin said.

“By bringing Ted Olson and David Boies together, two lawyers that were on the opposite sides of Bush v. Gore, it allowed us for the first time to lift the partisan veil that we’ve always discussed the issue of marriage equality, and finally shined the spotlight on the human faces,” Griffin said. “And as I said in that courtroom, looking at those nine justices and listening to Ted Olson articulate that argument, all I could do was think about those four plaintiffs that were in that courtroom and their families and the thousands of Californians just like them, and those around this country.” 

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Advocates say court, not states, should decide on same-sex marriage

Updated