Do Ask, I’ll Tell
In the comments section of my post yesterday, DOMA: Elephants on Parade, some of you asked me to explain the apparent contradictions in Obama’s position on same-gender marriage.
Sojourner asked: In the debates Joe Biden said that neither he nor Barack Obama were in favor of marriage for gays. I thought at the time that he was talking through his ass about Obama. But then I read an article in Equality, the publication of the HRC that stated he was in favor of civil unions. That goes against what you have cited here, also. So maybe he has changed his mind since 2004? I hope not. His statements there are very bold and powerful, and I thank you for bringing them to my attention.
Jason asked: While I love the comments from 2004, and I totally love this post, I have the same question as Sojourner…during the presidential campaign he didn’t say what he said four years ago. Why was that? Please explain. Because I love it when you explain things.
Trish said: I love it when you explain things too and I love it when you find the loose thread and pull on it.
In light of what Joe Biden said during the Vice-Presidential debate and Obama’s statements at other times on the subject of same-gender marriage before, during, and subsequent to the November 2008 election, the question on many minds is what can and will Obama do about legalized same-gender marriage.
Rather than using my words to explain what may or may not be in Obama’s heart or on Obama’s mind, I prefer to use his words to explain what’s on his agenda. Yesterday’s post quoted Obama’s February 2004 letter to the Windy City Times because in that letter he so eloquently reminded us of the reasons why he is a civil rights defender and that the “prize” is “equal rights for every American.” Most importantly, those words reflect Obama’s most recent statements on the subject.
The Obama-Biden Plan to Strengthen Civil Rights on Obama’s website at change.gov calls for the repeal of DOMA (section two authorizes states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages from other states; section three prohibits the federal government from extending federal marriage-based benefits, privileges and rights to same-sex couples), the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” an opposition to a Constitutional ban on same-gender marriage, and legislation that would ensure that the 1,100+ federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of marital status are extended to same-sex couples in civil unions and other legally-recognized unions, among numerous other civil rights protections.
So . . . does this mean that Obama supports same-sex marriage or only civil unions?
Again, in Obama’s words, which can be found in the link “Open Letter from Barack Obama” on Obama’s LGBT Pride page, our President-elect says:
“As your President, I will use the bully pulpit to urge states to treat same-sex couples with full equality in their family and adoption laws. I personally believe that civil unions represent the best way to secure that equal treatment. But I also believe that the federal government should not stand in the way of states that want to decide on their own how best to pursue equality for gay and lesbian couples–whether that means a domestic partnership, a civil union, or a civil marriage. I support the complete repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Federal law should not discriminate in any way against gay and lesbian couples, which is precisely what DOMA does. “
Why is this Obama’s plan and what will be its effect? Without getting into a lengthy discussion here about how equal rights for same-gender couples will eventually play out in light of the 10th Amendment and states’ powers, checks and balances between the branches of governments, and the power of the judiciary all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court to find laws unconstitutional, the importance of Obama’s plan is that it is immediate and effective.
Obama’s plan uses all of the powers available to the federal government to have the broad-reaching effect of making discrimination against same-gender partners illegal under federal law. Moreover, until the U.S. Supreme Court determines (and I believe it will) that prohibition of state marriage licenses to same-gender couples is unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, and/or whether individual states have domestic partnership, civil unions, or civil marriage (again, whatever states do, I think the U.S. Supreme Court will eventually find that states’ laws will have to apply to all couples uniformly under the Equal Protection Clause), all couples, mixed- or same-gender, will nonetheless have the same rights and benefits under federal law.
Again, Obama’s words:
“No one has to guess about what I will do in Washington. My record makes it very clear. I will be an unapologetic voice for civil rights . . . .”