Amid a barrage of questions focused on the $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts set to kick in on Friday, President Obama took time to elaborate on his administration’s latest act of solidarity with the gay rights community–a friend-of-the-court brief filed Thursday that supports a challenge to California’s ban on same-sex marriage.
“Last year, upon a long period of reflection, I concluded that we cannot discriminate against same-sex couples when it comes to marriage,” said the president during an impromptu news conference Friday. “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. ”
While the brief, filed by Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. on behalf of the U.S. government, focuses only on California’s Proposition 8, the president expressed his desire to see the Supreme Court rule more broadly on the issue and potentially strike down all state bans on same-sex marriage–a departure from his previously held position that same-sex marriage laws should be left up to the states.
“What we’ve said is, same-sex couples are a group, a class that deserves heightened scrutiny,” said Obama Friday. “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,” he continued. “The Court may decide if it doesn’t apply in this case, it may not 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,” he conceded. “I’m the president.”
President Obama’s argument went slightly further than that of his administration’s brief, which contends that California’s Prop 8 violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation without furthering an important state interest. Other states that similarly allow civil unions but not marriage rights–including Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey and Oregon–could also be affected by the brief’s logic. But the brief does not label all 38 state bans against same-sex marriage unconstitutional, as the president would, based on his remarks Friday.
“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 that notion that, well, they’re same sex couples,” said Obama. “If the Supreme Court asks me, or my attorney general, or a 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.”
Tune into Hardball tonight for the latest on Obama’s push for marriage equality.