Obama Talks Marriage -- on His Terms -- Saying, "I'm Not Gonna Make News on That Today."

Posted by Chris Geidner
June 29, 2011 5:02 PM |

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[Photo: President Obama speaks to reporters on June 29, 2011 in the East Room of the White House. (Photo by Chris Geidner.)]

At the presidential news conference today, President Barack Obama wanted to focus on the economy. Two reporters, however, NBC's Chuck Todd and The Wall Street Journal's Laura Meckler, shifted the focus at points to marriage.

Although the president told Meckler, "I'm not gonna make news on that today," when asked if he personally supports same-sex marriage, he earlier had said, in response to Todd's question, that he thought the outcome of the New York marriage debate was "a good thing."

Todd asked, simply, "Do you think marriage is a civil right?"

Obama's response sounded like a more nuanced -- and perhaps better enunciated -- version of his comments at the LGBT Leadership Council Gala in New York City on June 23. He began by saying, "This administration, under my direction, has consistently said that we cannot discriminate [unintelligible] against people on the basis of sexual orientation. And, we have done more in the two-and-ahalf-years that I've been in here than the previous 43 presidents ...."

Obama then reiterated accomplishments, from the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" -- which remains in effect until 60 days after the required certification from the secretary of defense, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and president -- and hospital visitation rules, among other areas, before returning to marriage.

Then, he said, "What we've also done, is that we've said that DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, is unconstitutional. We've said, 'We cannot defend the federal government pokin' its nose into what states are doing and putting the humb on the scale against same-sex couples."

As to New York and the marriage debates in the states, discussed earlier at Metro Weekly, Obama said, "What I've seen happening over the last several years, and what happened in New York last week, I think, was a good thing. Because what you saw was, the people of New York having a debate, talking through these issues. It was contentious, it was emotional, but ultimately they made a decision to recognize civil marriages, and I think that's exactly how things should work.

"And so, so, I think it is important for us to work through these issues because each community's going to be different and each state's going to be different to work through.

"In the meantime, we file briefs before the Supreme Court that say, 'We think that any discrimination against gays, lesbians and transgenders is subject to heightened scrutiny, and we don't think that DOMA is unconstitutional.' [NOTE: Although the White House transcript has not yet been released, it appears that Obama misspoke here and meant to say the the administration thinks DOMA is unconstitutional.]

"So, I think the combination of what states are doing, what the courts are doing, the actions that we're taking administratively all are how the process should work.

Asked a follow-up by Todd, Obama broadened the scope of his comments, saying, "I think what we're seeing is the profound recognition on the part of the American people that gays and lesbians and transgender persons are are brothers, our sisters, our children, our cousins, our friends, our co-workers, and that they've got to be treated like every other American. And I think that principle will win out.

"It's not going to be perfectly smooth, and, it turns out that the president ... can't dictate precisely how this process [goes]," he added. "But, I think that we're moving in the direction of greater equality -- and I think that's a good thing."

When Meckler later said that the answer to Todd sounded like he supported the marriage decision in New York and asked if Obama personally supports same-sex marriage, Obama said, "I'm not gonna make news on that today. Good try, though."

When she followed up by asking again, Obama said, "I think this has been asked and answered. I'll keep on giving you the same answer until I give you a different one."

Read the White House transcript below the jump.

* * *

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

________________________________________________________________________________________________

For Immediate Release                                                             June 29, 2011 

PRESS CONFERENCE BY THE PRESIDENT

East Room

 

[snip]

     THE PRESIDENT: Chuck Todd.

     Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  There have been a lot of questions about the constitutionality -- constitutional interpretations of a few decisions you’ve made, so I’ll just simply ask:  Do you believe the War Powers Act is constitutional?  Do you believe that the debt limit is constitutional, the idea that Congress can do this?  And do you believe that marriage is a civil right?

[snip]

     THE PRESIDENT:  Let me start by saying that this administration, under my direction, has consistently said we cannot discriminate as a country against people on the basis of sexual orientation.  And we have done more in the two and a half years that I’ve been in here than the previous 43 Presidents to uphold that principle, whether it’s ending “don’t ask, don’t tell,” making sure that gay and lesbian partners can visit each other in hospitals, making sure that federal benefits can be provided to same-sex couples.  Across the board -- hate crimes  -- we have made sure that that is a central principle of this administration, because I think it’s a central principle of America.

     Now, what we’ve also done is we’ve said that DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, is unconstitutional.  And so we’ve said we cannot defend the federal government poking its nose into what states are doing and putting the thumb on the scale against same-sex couples.

     What I’ve seen happen over the last several years, and what happened in New York last week I think was a good thing, because what you saw was the people of New York having a debate, talking through these issues.  It was contentious; it was emotional; but, ultimately, they made a decision to recognize civil marriage.  And I think that’s exactly how things should work. 

And so I think it is -- I think it is important for us to work through these issues -- because each community is going to be different and each state is going to be different -- to work through them.  In the meantime, we filed a -- we filed briefs before the Supreme Court that say we think that any discrimination against gays, lesbians, transgenders is subject to heightened scrutiny, and we don't think that DOMA is unconstitutional [sic].  And so I think the combination of what states are doing, what the courts are doing, the actions that we’re taking administratively, all are how the process should work.

     Q    Are you at all uncomfortable that there could be different rules in different states, you know, and for somebody to make the argument that's what we saw during segregation --

     THE PRESIDENT:  Chuck, I think what you’re seeing is a profound recognition on the part of the American people that gays and lesbians and transgender persons are our brothers, our sisters, our children, our cousins, our friends, our co-workers, and that they’ve got to be treated like every other American.  And I think that principle will win out.  It’s not going to be perfectly smooth, and it turns out that the President -- I’ve discovered since I’ve been in this office -- can’t dictate precisely how this process moves.  But I think we’re moving in a direction of greater equality and I think that’s a good thing.

[snip]

     THE PRESIDENT: Laura Meckler.

     Q    Thank you, Mr. President. ... And I’d also like to follow up on one of your earlier answers about same-sex marriage.  You said that it’s a positive step that so many states, including New York, are moving towards that.  Does that mean that you personally now do support same-sex marriage, putting aside what individual states decide?  Is that your personal view?

THE PRESIDENT:  I’m not going to make news on that today.  (Laughter.)  Good try, though.

[snip]

     Q    I'm sorry, I know you don’t want to say anything further on the same-sex marriage issue, but what you said before really led me to believe that that’s what is in your personal mind.  And I’m wondering what's the distinction you’re drawing. 

     THE PRESIDENT:  Laura, I think this has been asked and answered.  I'll keep on giving you the same answer until I give you a different one, all right?  And that won’t be today.  (Laughter.) 

     Q    That's going to be -- (inaudible.)

     THE PRESIDENT:  Yes, exactly.  I thought you’d like that one.  (Laughter.) 


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