On Thursday, February 28, the Obama Administration submitted a legal brief to the Supreme Court in favor of ruling California’s Proposition 8 unconstitutional.
The Administration filed an amicus, or friend-of-the-court, brief insisting that Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. A friend-of-the-court brief is an offering of case-bearing information to the court, which may be considered or thrown out. The brief also said that discrimination against same-sex couples deserves heightened scrutiny.
In effect, the Administration is siding with those who wish to overturn Proposition 8 and set a standard against similar laws across the country.
This seems to be another glimpse of the President’s “evolution” on the question of legalizing same-sex marriage. At one time he stood for traditional marriage, he but believed the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law defining marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution, should be struck down. President Obama said this was an issue that should be handled at the state level.
This evolution was hurried along when in May 2012 Vice-President Joe Biden said at a press conference, “I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties.”
This forced the President to publicly clarify his own views. On May 9, 2012 he said, “I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.” Since then, the President hasn’t been shy about his views on same-sex marriage.
He was the first president in our history to mention gay rights in an inaugural address, saying, “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law—for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”
Nine states plus the District of Columbia have already legalized same-sex marriage, including Maine, Maryland, and Washington, which were the first to do so as a result of popular vote. In those states, same-sex couples are entitled to the same benefits as are enjoyed by opposite-gender twosomes. This includes tax benefits, Social Security, and family medical leave protections.
The new move by the Obama Administration to file the friend-of-the-court brief is worth noting because the Administration was under no political obligation to get involved. The President could have simply let the two California couples who are appealing to the Supreme Court continue unaided by the White House in their fight to overturn Proposition 8. In a White House briefing on Friday, March 1, President Obama said the brief represented his Administration’s position on the matter, and that he wanted to help overturn something he thought unconstitutional and unfair.
In my opinion, the fact that we’re describing the issue as “marriage equality” rather than “gay” or “same-sex marriage” is of great value to the cause. The vocabulary of equality and fairness appeals to our national creed. Instead of using identity politics and demanding that special treatment be paid to a long-oppressed minority, the marriage equality movement has perhaps unconsciously enlisted public support by phrasing itself in moral terms rather than merely political ones. This is heartening news at a time when we need to be reminded of our country’s greatness. Most of our successful progressive movements have played a similar tune—a tune that shows the timeless dichotomy between the young and the old.
Image by JUZ © from http://www.flickr.com/photos/youthoughtyouhaditgood/8507055361/