In an interview with ABC News today, following a lot of back-and-forth about the nature of his position on marriage equality, President Obama announced that he had finally come to the conclusion that civil unions are not enough to guarantee that “gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly and equally.”
In his statement he said, “At a certain point, I just concluded that, for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.” And while noting that his Administration decided not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court, he didn’t apparently call for its repeal (which would actually allow legally married same sex couples to receive federal benefits). Instead he said that DOMA “tried to federalize what has historically been state law,” though DOMA specifically requires that the federal government not recognize same sex marriages performed in states where it is legal nor give those spouses the federal rights opposite-sex marriage currently affords other heterosexual couples. (DOMA also allows states like North Carolina to not recognize same sex marriages performed states like Iowa, Massachusetts or New York, despite constitutional law which requires states to honor contracts signed in other states.)
It’s unclear whether his larger statement will tackle DOMA more substantively; however, it is the first time a sitting President has said that he thinks same sex couples should be allowed to marry at all, even in the ways currently limited by federal and state law. It’s a start.
UPDATE: Mother Jones’ Adam Serwer has a similar take:
But Obama has endorsed marriage equality federalism—not the notion that marriage for gays and lesbians is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution that can never be taken away. Obama has adopted the same position that Vice President Dick Cheney did in 2004, when Cheney said he believed in marriage equality but that the states should be allowed to decide by a show of hands, as North Carolina did Tuesday, whether gays and lesbians have the same rights as everyone else.
FURTHER UPDATE: Serwer and colleague David Corn have more from the Administration:
The official replied, “He has always said that it is a state issue, and he’s not suggesting changing that. He did did not support the North Carolina amendment, but he’s not saying he will bring up a piece of federal legislation on gay marriage.
In other words, they may not defend DOMA in Court (though the House Republicans will), but they have no intention of doing anything to repeal it.