President Obama’s Moment
It has always taken strong national leadership to expand equal rights in this country, and it has long been obvious that marriage rights are no exception. President Obama offered some of that leadership on Wednesday.
“I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” Mr. Obama said in an interview with ABC News that the White House arranged for the purpose of giving Mr. Obama a forum to say just that.
This is a president and a White House that has not always been unwavering in taking positions of principle, including on this issue. Mr. Obama’s statement followed days of unseemly equivocation by the White House after Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. announced his support for same-sex marriage on Sunday. It also came one day after North Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment forbidding same-sex marriage and civil unions, which threatens all unmarried couples, health coverage for their children and domestic violence laws.
Still, the contrast was sharp between Mr. Obama and Mitt Romney, who took a hard-line position on Wednesday against same-sex marriage and civil unions with similar rights. He has said he favors a national constitutional amendment enshrining this particular bigotry.
Mr. Obama consciously presented his change of position (he used to favor so-called civil unions but not marriage) as a personal journey. He said he thought about “members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together,” and about “those soldiers or airmen or Marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage.”
That process will seem familiar to Americans of his and older generations who have reached the same place, or are still getting there. Polling shows that younger Americans have firmly supported same-sex marriage for some time. Mr. Obama said denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples “doesn’t make sense” to his daughters. “Frankly, that’s the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective,” he said. But there remains strong opposition among some older Americans, particularly Christian evangelicals and African-Americans. The White House is hoping Mr. Obama can help soften opposition among black voters over time.
We have one major point of disagreement with Mr. Obama: his support for the concept of states deciding this issue on their own. That position effectively restricts the right to marry to the 20 states that have not adopted the kind of constitutional prohibitions North Carolina voters approved on Tuesday.
Mr. Obama should remember that, in 1967, the Supreme Court said no state could prohibit mixed-race marriages because “marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man.’ ” Those rights are too precious and too fragile to be left up to the whim of states and the tearing winds of modern partisan politics.
A federal judge in California, supported by an appellate court panel, has ruled that a ban on same-sex marriage violates the 14th Amendment right to equal protection. That decision will probably reach the Supreme Court, and, when it does, we expect Mr. Obama, if he is still president, will take the final step in his evolutionary process and direct the Justice Department to support that ruling and urge the court to uphold equality in every state.