"While the president does not weigh in on every single ballot measure in every state, the record is clear that the President has long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same sex couples. That's what the North Carolina ballot initiative would do -- it would single out and discriminate against committed gay and lesbian couples -- and that's why the President does not support it," Cameron French, Obama for America North Carolina campaign spokesman, said in a statement reported by the News & Observer in North Carolina.
The move is notable because the Obama White House has avoided referencing specific states by name in statements issued by the White House about pending marriage and domestic partnership initiatives and referenda.
In September 2011, for example, when asked to clarify a White House statement issued about the North Carolina amendment -- a statement that discussed the president's general opposition but contained no North Carolina specifics -- White House press secretary Jay Carney told Metro Weekly, "I think our position on similar amendments has been clear. I don't have a specific one on this, but I think you can -- our position is clear on this, the President's position is clear on this."
Statements made by Obama and his spokespeople in 2009 also avoided specific mention of either Maine or Washington, both of which had referenda on the ballots relating to same-sex couples' relationship recognition, keeping instead to language similar to the first sentence of today's statement by French.
In Maine, the 2009 referendum reversed the state's legislature, which had passed a marriage equality bill. In Washington, the 2009 referendum upheld the state's legislature, which had passed a bill granting comprehensive domestic partnership rights to same-sex couples. The same also had been true about statements made before today in response to questions about North Carolina, Minnesota, Maine, Maryland or Washington -- all of which could have marriage initiatives or referenda on their ballots this year.
In 2008, however, then-candidate Sen. Barack Obama did specifically oppose California's Proposition 8, which was then pending before voters. He wrote to the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, "As the Democratic nominee for President, I am proud to join with and support the LGBT community in an effort to set our nation on a course that recognizes LGBT Americans with full equality under the law. ... [T]hat is why I oppose the divisive and discriminatory efforts to amend the California Constitution, and similar efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution or those of other states."
Although many states could have measures on their ballots this year, North Carolina is the only state that will have a marriage-related ballot measure on its primary ballot. The North Carolina primary is May 8.
The language will read: "Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contract."
Evan Wolfson, the president of Freedom to Marry, told Metro Weekly, "Freedom to Marry applauds the President and urges voters in North Carolina and throughout the country to stay true to the Golden Rule of treating others as we ourselves would want to be treated."
He added, "President Obama's strong restatement of his opposition to anti-gay measures such as the proposed discriminatory constitutional amendment in North Carolina is one more reason voters should reject such ugly attempts to divide Americans and put obstacles in the path of people seeking to take care of their loved ones in sickness and in health and in tough economic times. It is wrong to deny loving and committed couples the freedom to marry, wrong to smuggle in language that would bar not only marriage but all other forms of recognition for families such as civil union or partnership, and wrong to write discrimination into the constitution."
Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese, who is leaving the organization in the coming months and is an Obama campaign co-chair, said in a statement issued by HRC, "The President has made clear the importance of protecting all families. Amendment One undermines basic human dignity and places families of all types at risk in North Carolina. Voting 'No' on Amendment One is critical for maintaining a fair North Carolina."
Today's statement comes two days after Obama dined at the State Dinner held in honor of the official visit of British Prime Minister David Cameron with Chad Griffin, the out gay incoming head of HRC and founder of the American Foundation for Equal Rights. AFER is backing the court challenge to Proposition 8.
As The Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart noted, "If the president or the administration had any concern about Griffin or the important work AFER is doing, you better believe he would not have been so prominently placed at the dinner. This doesn't give Obama a pass on his evolution. And it certainly is not going to give him immunity in the impending fight over adding a marriage equality plank to the Democratic Party platform as Greg Sargent cautions."
[NOTE: This post was updated at 4:30 p.m. to include information from the September 2011 White House press briefing. At 5:15 p.m., the final paragraph was removed. Wolfson and Obama will be sharing the stage at the Barnard College commencement, where both are to receive the Barnard Medal of Distinction, as BuzzFeed reported earlier today, but Wolfson tells Metro Weekly that won't be happening until May.]