WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama said Friday that he does not think California's Proposition 8 is constitutional, reflecting the view of his Justice Department, which submitted a legal brief to an upcoming Supreme Court challenge to the law on Thursday.
"As everybody here knows, last year upon a long period of reflection, I concluded that we cannot discriminate against same-sex couples when it comes to marriage," Obama said at a Friday press conference at the White House. "The basic principle that America is founded on -- the idea that we're all created equal -- applies to everybody, regardless of sexual orientation, as well as race or gender or religion or ethnicity."
Turning to California's 2008 gay-marriage ban, Obama said his administration couldn't "avoid" weighing in on the case. "I felt it was important for us to articulate what I believe and what this administration stands for," he said.
He was asked whether marriage should be a right for people in all states, not just California. Obama said he personally favored such rights, but the Justice Department had to take a narrower view.
"The solicitor general in his institutional role going before the Supreme Court is obliged to answer the specific question before them," he explained. "And the specific question presented before the court right now is whether Prop. 8 and the California law is unconstitutional."
The Supreme Court is set to hear Hollingsworth v. Perry, the challenge to the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage, later this month. It will also hear a challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which Obama instructed the Justice Department to stop defending in 2011, citing his belief that it is unconstitutional.
In the Justice Department's amicus brief in Hollingsworth v. Perry, Solicitor General Donald Verilli said that granting civil unions but not full marriage rights to gay couples violated the 14th Amendment. "The designation of marriage," he wrote, "confers a special validation of the relationship between two individuals and conveys a message to society that domestic partnerships or civil unions cannot match."
The brief does not call on the court to strike down laws governing civil unions, nor does it suggest a blanket right to same-sex marriage; instead it takes issue with the lack of equal protection under Proposition 8.
Obama came out in favor of gay marriage last May, after previously saying his views were "evolving" on the issue. In his second inaugural address last month, he gave a forceful defense of the rights of gay and lesbian couples. "Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law -- for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well," he said.
On Friday, Obama echoed those words. "The basic principle is: let's treat everybody fairly. Let's treat everybody equal," he said. "And I think that the brief that's been presented accurately reflects our position."