WASHINGTON -- An Obama administration official on Saturday confirmed the president's support for legislation that prevents the federal government from denying same-sex couples the same protections received by their straight counterparts. The same official also repeated that the president supports three ballot initiatives in separate states legalizing gay marriage, and opposes a constitutional amendment in Minnesota that would ban it.
The reiteration of the president's gay marriage plank comes at a time when neither campaign is actually litigating the issue (at least not publicly). But on Friday, the president was pressed on the matter during an interview with MTV. According to ABC News, he "demurred" when pressed as to whether he saw a federal role in advancing gay marriage during his second term.
The full transcript of the MTV interview tells a somewhat different story. While the president did say that to "try to legislate federally in this area is probably the wrong way to go," he also noted his opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act, federal legislation that defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman.
"Obviously, the president has also supported a legislative appeal of the Defense of Marriage Act," added the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.
The president has also instructed his Justice Department to stop defending DOMA in court, with hopes that the Supreme Court will eventually rule it unconstitutional. Finally, Obama has come out in support for the Respect For Marriage Act, which is a legislative repeal of DOMA. Absent that, there are few legislative or legal vehicles for Obama to push to affirm gay marriage on a federal level.
Whether or not Obama is softening his position on gay marriage legislation in the second term, there is little chance that he risks shaking up the campaign too much at this point. The LGBT community has been largely ecstatic with how he's moved on the issue during his first term in office. And while Republicans freely used gay marriage as a culture war topic in 2004, neither the Romney campaign nor allied GOP groups have returned to that well in 2012.
Below is the full transcript of the president's remarks. In what is, perhaps, a Freudian slip, he mistakes Defense of Marriage Act with the Defense Against Marriage Act.
Well first of all, Sway, as you know, I have been very clear about my belief that same-sex couples have to be treated, before the eyes of the law, as you, know, heterosexual couples. I think that’s the right thing to do. It’s based on my personal experience seeing loving couples who are committed to each other, raising kids, and are just outstanding people.
And, you know, I was supportive of civil unions, but they taught me that if you’re using different words, if you’re somehow singling them out -- they don’t feel true equality. But what I've also said is, historically marriages have been defined at the state level, and there's a conversation going on. New York has, you know, moved forward with one set of ideas. There are some other states that are still having that debate. And I think for us to, you know, try to legislate federally in this area is probably the wrong way to go. The courts are going to be examining these issues.
I mean, I’ve stood up and said I’m opposed to the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. Because what that does, it says that the federal government won’t even recognize a marriage for a state that has decided they’re going to recognize same-sex couples. So if you’re a couple in Massachusetts that’s been married, the federal government is saying, we’re not going to recognize that for purposes of transferring social security benefits or something like that. I’ve said that’s wrong.
There are a couple of cases that are working their way through the courts, and my expectation is that the Defense Against Marriage Act will be overturned. But ultimately, you know, I believe that if we have that conversation at the state level, these, you know, the evolution that is taking place in this country will get us to a place where we are going to be recognizing everybody fairly, and I’m very proud of the fact that, you know, as President, I’ve got a track record of not just talking the talk on this, but also walking the walk: ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, you know, making sure that federal employees – that they are treated equally when it comes to their partners, and I’m going to keep on pushing, you know, as hard as I can.
But what’s really going to change this is the fact that young people -- their attitudes are really going to reflect the future, instead of the past.