Did Obama Just Evolve on Gay Marriage Again?

President Obama this week said in an interview that he can’t imagine an instance where a gay marriage ban could be constitutional. Does this mark a final step in his evolution on gay marriage and is it designed to impact the upcoming Supreme Court cases?

In an interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC news that was released on Wednesday, Obama said:

“In terms of practical politics, what I’ve seen is a healthy debate taking place state by state, and not every state has the exact same attitudes and cultural mores. And I — you know, my thinking was that this is traditionally a state issue and — that it will work itself out. On the other hand — what I also believe is that the core principle that people don’t get discriminated against — that’s one of our core values. And it’s in our Constitution.”

Stephanopoulos went on to ask whether Obama could imagine a circumstance where a gay marriage ban could be constitutional.

“Well, I can’t, personally. I cannot,” Obama responded. “That’s part of the reason I said, ultimately, I think that same-sex couples should be able to marry. That’s my personal position. And, frankly, that’s the position that’s reflected — in the briefs that we filed — in the Supreme Court.”

President Obama’s administration filed briefs in the two major marriage equality-related cases the Supreme Court will start considering this month, Windsor v United States, which tackles the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and Hollingsworth v Perry, the California Proposition 8 case.

It’s the Proposition 8 case that deals directly with whether state recognition of marriage equality can be defined away by a majority vote and, potentially, whether any state can justify a marriage equality ban when squared against the Constitution.

Obama famously announced in 2012 that he had “evolved” on the marriage equality issue and now supported same-sex couples marrying, making him the first sitting President of the United States to ever do so. His support was, at that time, qualified: he believed that while the federal Defense of Marriage Act’s ban on gay marriage recognition could not be justified, state marriage equality laws should be decided on a state level.

Obama’s brief in the Proposition 8 case does not explicitly make clear that the administration deviates from this line and seems to play to a conservative court’s sensibilities by showing how it need only decide on the very particular circumstances of how Proposition 8 was enacted. It’s worth reminding ourselves on how that came to be if we’re to consider the question of whether Obama’s words here have any influence.

Briefly, in 2008 the state supreme court ruled that a statutory ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional and so legalized marriage equality. Religious conservatives, trading on anti-gay animus, then launched a campaign to create a constitutional ban and in November of 2008 — on the very same night as Obama’s first presidential victory — they were successful and once again made same-sex marriage illegal in California. In that time, more than 18,000 same-sex couples had married and remain married today thanks to a subsequent intervention by the state supreme court.

With a federal District Court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals both having ruled that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional, it remains for the Supreme Court to decide whether the ban can pass constitutional muster. But a question has persisted in this case: whether the Supreme Court of the United States will confine itself to narrowly considering Proposition 8 or whether, at the same time, it will be forced to consider the legality of every other state’s gay marriage ban.

With this in mind, Obama’s evolution on the issue, that no gay marriage ban can be squared against the Constitution, seems to be a statement of intent: that from this point on the administration may take a more aggressive line in arguing that if a fundamental right to marriage does exist, as the Supreme Court has ruled several times now, then so too must a right to enter into a same-sex marriage.

However, because the Department of Justice’s brief in Hollingsworth v Perry confines itself to the question of whether Proposition 8 alone is legal, President Obama’s statement may not feature if the Supreme Court is content to confine itself to the narrower argument. On the other hand, should the justices decide striking down Proposition 8 would hold wider implications, Obama’s words may be important if the administration is asked to clarify its position on the constitutionality of all same-sex marriage bans.

The Supreme Court will hear opening arguments in Windsor and Hollingsworth in late March, with a decision due in June.


Related Reading:

Care2 Success! Obama Asks Supreme Court to Ditch Gay Marriage Ban

Gay Marriage and Obama: International Reaction

The New Yorker Celebrates Obama’s Gay Marriage Evolution

Image credit: Intel Photos.


Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill6 years ago

Isn't "evolve" just another way to say flip-flop?

Mari Garcia
Mari Garcia6 years ago

Every little step in the right direction is what matters.

Annmari Lundin
Annmari L6 years ago

John W. 7:07PM PDT on Mar 17, 2013
Some people used that argument against gay adoption a few years back in the country of Sweden. It was also used to deny gay couples the right to foster and even have custody over their own children. The people using those arguments where mainly of the christian faith or used it as an excuse (you know, it's in the bible..). A survey done in the 1990's showed that around 40,000 children lived with at least one gay parent. That was more than 20 years ago and there are way many more now. The argument you're using has been obliterated because when people get used to seeing same gender couples taking their kids to daycare and picking them up in the pm, participate in field trips, pta-meetings, sports events, etc, it becomes the norm. Only narrowminded people get upset by seeing a lesbian couple pushing a pram or two gay men playing with their kids and the former are thankfully going extinct!

Allan Yorkowitz
.6 years ago

So far these are words - will the country see any action?

Allan Yorkowitz
.6 years ago

So far these are words,,,where is the action?

Miranda Lyon
Miranda Lyon6 years ago

Imagine we had waited for the states, one by one, to grant equality before the law and full inclusion in all civil rights to African-American citizens. Now ask yourself why we should even for a moment consider that citizens who happen to be homosexual...or any other citizen of this country, should suffer any delay in being granted that full access to all rights of citizenship.

Lynn Squance
Lynn Squance6 years ago


@ John W --- "Marrage is for procreation, same sex couples cannot have children thus no marrage."

Are you mad? How many heterosexual couples, married according to societal rules, cannot have children, or, decide (yes this does happen) not to have children. Does this mean that they aren't really married?

And, are you part of the Akin and Mourdoch school of thought that children can only be born in marriage, and not outside of marriage?

@ John W (again) --- "Would the children with 2 Mums or 2 Dads not get Bullied at school and elsewhere, they would have to be great fighters."

Not true if bigots like yourself and others actually understood 'equality' and taught your children about equality and acceptance. Some kids are bullied about their weight or about the size of their noses for example. Teaching about equality and acceptance of ALL people works against bullying.

@ all those who disparage Mr Obama for growing in his understanding --- Perhaps you would do better to emulate his growth, rather than put your narrow mindedness on display to make yourselves look foolish.

I just noticed an ad for a Canadian bank about mortgages and the picture appears to be a same sex male couple with a baby girl of about 1 year old. Way to go TD Bank!!!

Lynn Squance
Lynn Squance6 years ago

To me, marriage is an expression of love, and the desire to enter into a mutually loving and committed relationship with another. Nowhere in the marriage contract is sex mentioned. And BTW, marriage is not required for sex.
Any objections to marriage equality that I have heard in the US have been based on fanatical evangelical right-wing pseudo christianity using statements like "The Bible says . . . ". In my mind, that is therefore a religious view, not a secular view. The 1st amendment guarantees freedom of and from religion. Therefore, those seeking to ban marriage equality are seeking to impose their religious code on others and denying others their religious freedom.

Further, marriage is not a religious ceremony but a civil ceremony, and, as Erica K points out, primarily a contract about property.

I am not aware of there being a reference to marriage in the constitution, but I am certainly aware of the constitution saying in various ways that all people are equal. Certainly the Declaration of Independence is clear on this point: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." --- "all men are created equal" and "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness". 'Happiness' in this context being the right to enter into a loving relationship, whether homosexual or heterosexual.

@ John W --- "Marra

Dagmar Breg
Past Member 6 years ago

Separation between church and state anyone?

David King
David King6 years ago

If you impose YOUR religious beliefs on everyone else, then are you not you are removing everyone else's religious freedom by doing so???

If we want a Government that is a theocracy then we have to be prepared when a religion that we disagree with gets into power and starts forcing those beliefs on us instead of our own!

Imagine a government that REQUIRES you to be GAY! We are a democracy, so if the majority votes for it... Then it will be so!!!

So John W. you will have to "choose" to be gay. Will you be happy about that??? Then stop advocating that the government discriminate against people that do not fit in with YOUR religious beliefs... BECAUSE your religion may fall out of favor, be voted out, and another voted in... THEN you will be required to follow it with the same fervency that you are advocating for others to follow your religion now...

Be careful what you wish for, because you might get it!!!