WASHINGTON -- An Obama administration official on Saturday confirmed the president's support for legislation that prevents the federal government from denying same-sex couples the same protections received by their straight counterparts. The same official also repeated that the president supports three ballot initiatives in separate states legalizing gay marriage, and opposes a constitutional amendment in Minnesota that would ban it.
The reiteration of the president's gay marriage plank comes at a time when neither campaign is actually litigating the issue (at least not publicly). But on Friday, the president was pressed on the matter during an interview with MTV. According to ABC News, he "demurred" when pressed as to whether he saw a federal role in advancing gay marriage during his second term.
The full transcript of the MTV interview tells a somewhat different story. While the president did say that to "try to legislate federally in this area is probably the wrong way to go," he also noted his opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act, federal legislation that defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman.
"Obviously, the president has also supported a legislative appeal of the Defense of Marriage Act," added the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.
The president has also instructed his Justice Department to stop defending DOMA in court, with hopes that the Supreme Court will eventually rule it unconstitutional. Finally, Obama has come out in support for the Respect For Marriage Act, which is a legislative repeal of DOMA. Absent that, there are few legislative or legal vehicles for Obama to push to affirm gay marriage on a federal level.
Whether or not Obama is softening his position on gay marriage legislation in the second term, there is little chance that he risks shaking up the campaign too much at this point. The LGBT community has been largely ecstatic with how he's moved on the issue during his first term in office. And while Republicans freely used gay marriage as a culture war topic in 2004, neither the Romney campaign nor allied GOP groups have returned to that well in 2012.
Below is the full transcript of the president's remarks. In what is, perhaps, a Freudian slip, he mistakes Defense of Marriage Act with the Defense Against Marriage Act.
Well first of all, Sway, as you know, I have been very clear about my belief that same-sex couples have to be treated, before the eyes of the law, as you, know, heterosexual couples. I think that’s the right thing to do. It’s based on my personal experience seeing loving couples who are committed to each other, raising kids, and are just outstanding people.
And, you know, I was supportive of civil unions, but they taught me that if you’re using different words, if you’re somehow singling them out -- they don’t feel true equality. But what I've also said is, historically marriages have been defined at the state level, and there's a conversation going on. New York has, you know, moved forward with one set of ideas. There are some other states that are still having that debate. And I think for us to, you know, try to legislate federally in this area is probably the wrong way to go. The courts are going to be examining these issues.
I mean, I’ve stood up and said I’m opposed to the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. Because what that does, it says that the federal government won’t even recognize a marriage for a state that has decided they’re going to recognize same-sex couples. So if you’re a couple in Massachusetts that’s been married, the federal government is saying, we’re not going to recognize that for purposes of transferring social security benefits or something like that. I’ve said that’s wrong.
There are a couple of cases that are working their way through the courts, and my expectation is that the Defense Against Marriage Act will be overturned. But ultimately, you know, I believe that if we have that conversation at the state level, these, you know, the evolution that is taking place in this country will get us to a place where we are going to be recognizing everybody fairly, and I’m very proud of the fact that, you know, as President, I’ve got a track record of not just talking the talk on this, but also walking the walk: ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, you know, making sure that federal employees – that they are treated equally when it comes to their partners, and I’m going to keep on pushing, you know, as hard as I can.
But what’s really going to change this is the fact that young people -- their attitudes are really going to reflect the future, instead of the past.
Also on HuffPost:
"I believe marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman," Mitt Romney said.
"This is a major turning point in the history of American civil rights," said New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. "No American president has ever supported a major expansion of civil rights that has not ultimately been adopted by the American people - and I have no doubt that this will be no exception. The march of freedom that has sustained our country since the Revolution of 1776 continues, and no matter what setbacks may occur in a given state, freedom will triumph over fear and equality will prevail over exclusion. Today's announcement is a testament to the President's convictions, and it builds on the courageous stands that so many Americans have taken over the years on behalf of equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans, stretching back to the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village."
"I applaud President Obama for announcing his support for marriage equality today," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) "For the first time in this nation's history, a sitting president has shown the courage and leadership to stand up for all American families by pledging to support the fundamental right of every person to marry the person they love, and to have that marriage fully respected. I commend President Obama for this brave and honest step. Those who seek to politicize civil rights for personal or political gain will certainly attack him, but the course toward marriage equality and justice is the correct and inevitable path."
"I'm thrilled!" longshot GOP presidential candidate Fred Karger told HuffPost, referring to Obama's embrace of marriage equality. Karger is the first openly gay Republican or Democrat to run for president. "The Karger pressure has worked," he joked. "Particularly after the defeat in North Carolina, we welcome him to the full equality position."
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen
Senator Chris Coons
"I have been blessed to have a long and happy marriage. I strongly believe all Americans deserve that same opportunity," said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.)
"While President Obama has played politics on this issue, the Republican Party and our presumptive nominee Mitt Romney have been clear. We support maintaining marriage between one man and one woman and would oppose any attempts to change that," said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Christine C. Quinn
"Barack Obama just announced he supports same-sex marriage," Mike Huckabee wrote in a fundraising appeal to supporters. "Nancy Pelosi immediately jumped on the announcement and emailed Democrat activists nationwide promising to continue their fight. This is going to be a defining issue this election. Obama, Pelosi and the Democrats have been a complete failure on economic issues so now they are going to focus on issues that will rile up their base. Well, Mr. President it's going to rile up our folks also. Men and women who support traditional marriage."
Rep. Bill Taylor
"President Obama's support for marriage equality marks an important moment for civil rights in America," said Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), who co-sponsored legislation that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). "We simply can not treat same sex couples as second-class citizens in our country. Marriage equality is one of the most significant civil rights battles of our time and is critical to guaranteeing the equal protection under the law promised to every American in the Constitution. The President's support for marriage equality should inspire Congress, Governors and state legislatures to advance civil rights for all Americans."
Ann McLane Kuster
Sen. Patrick Leahy
"This is an historic moment and I applaud the President for his decision and courage," Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said. "One of the greatest and most liberating human emotions is acceptance. And what the President did today was accept that the quality of love two people share is more important than their gender. The President's decision required him look within and engage his heart. It is truly wonderful and welcome news."
Senator Patty Murray
"As an early and strong proponent of Marriage Equality, I am very happy that President Obama has made this announcement," said Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) "Marriage Equality is a matter of basic human rights and all of America's same-sex families are now closer to having their unions recognized by our government. This is an important step in our country's march toward achieving true justice and equality for all."
"President Obama's public support for marriage equality is an historic affirmation of the fundamental American value of equal rights for all," said Howard Dean. "Having signed the nation's first law allowing Civil Unions as Governor of Vermont, I'm also proud to see our president affirm the belief that I and so many other Americans hold: loving and committed couples should have the same benefits that are extended through marriage. Marriage equality is a right and a benefit to all families."
Senator Ben Cardin
Sen. Barbara Boxer
Senator Dick Durbin