Friday, August 06, 2010

Is Obama's position on gay marriage sustainable?

From The Plume Line: "That seems to be one of the core political questions in the wake of the overturning of Proposition 8. How can the president continue opposing gay marriage while supporting the decision to strike down Prop 8, on the grounds that it's "discriminatory," as the White House said in a statement last night?

Making it more dicey, the White House statement also said that the president continues to push for "full equality" for gay and lesbian couples. How can that not include support for gay marriage?

This morning, senior White House adviser David Axelrod struggled to defend this position on MSNBC. Here's what he said:

"The president opposed Proposition 8 at the time. He felt that it was divisive. He felt that it was mean-spirited, and he opposed it at the time. So we reiterated that position yesterday. The president does oppose same-sex marriage, but he supports equality for gay and lesbian couples, and benefits and other issues, and that has been effectuated in federal agencies under his control. He's supports civil unions, and that's been his position throughout. So nothing has changed."

But as John Aravosis says, everything has changed.

Here's another problem: In the interview with MSNBC this morning, Axelrod clarified that Obama believes that gay marriage is an issue for states to decide, and it's true that Obama opposes the Defense of Marriage Act, which codified a federal ban on gay marriage.

But as Michael Shear notes, his administration has yet to actively seek a repeal of DOMA, and is acquiescing to Congressional leaders who insist that the current political reality dictates that repeal is impossible. And his administration continues to defend DOMA in court against appeals.

Also: Obama has in the past claimed there's no inconsistency between opposing Prop 8 and opposing gay marriage by arguing he thinks gay marriage is wrong but we shouldn't be prohibiting it legally.

"When you're playing around with constitutions, just to prohibit somebody who cares about another person, it just seems to me that that is not what America is about," he said in a 2008 MTV interview. "Usually constitutions expand liberties, they don't contract them."

But DOMA does just this, and while Obama opposes it, actively moving to repeal is what would turn this argument from mere eloquence to reality.

The problem for the White House is that the Prop 8 decision will force this issue onto full boil nationally, just as the Arizona law did with illegal immigration. And heading into his 2012 reelection campaign, the gay and lesbian community -- an important Dem constiuency -- will be demanding full support for gay marriage, and a repeal of DOMA.

They'll be demanding complete consistency, and won't want to be lectured about what is and isn't possible amid some arbitrarily defined "political reality."

By Greg Sargent | August 5, 2010; 12:38 PM ET