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HRC to Obama: Support marriage equality now
by Rex Wockner
2011-01-19

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The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) called on President Barack Obama Jan. 13 to abandon his opposition to same-sex marriage.

Obama has said he supports civil unions for gays but thinks marriage is for straight couples. But he also has said his thinking on the issue is "evolving" and "it's pretty clear where the trendlines are going."

As such, "it's time for him to help lead the American public toward full equality for all Americans," said HRC President Joe Solmonese. "We ask him to fully recognize the dignity of LGBT Americans and their families by supporting marriage equality."

Solmonese's exhortation came as the Justice Department appealed two federal court rulings from last July that struck down as unconstitutional the part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that prevents the federal government from recognizing states' same-sex marriages.

The section states: "In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word 'marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word 'spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife."

(The other section, which gives states cover to refuse to recognize other states' same-sex marriages, was not targeted in the lawsuits.)

The administration has said it has a duty to defend U.S. laws—including those such as DOMA that the president opposes. HRC disputed that claim and urged the Justice Department to "at the very least ... acknowledge that (DOMA) is unconstitutional."

In its appeal to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the government argues: " ... DOMA is rationally related to legitimate governmental interests. Congress passed DOMA in 1996, at a time when states and their citizens were just beginning to address the issue of marriage rights for same-sex couples. Since that time, some states have enacted statutes or issued court decisions that permit same-sex couples to marry, and other states have promulgated statutes or constitutional amendments that define marriage as between a man and a woman. Other states do not allow same-sex couples to marry under their own laws, but nonetheless recognize same-sex marriages from other states. DOMA, which implicates over 1000 federal laws, reflects Congress's reasonable response to this still-evolving debate among the states regarding same-sex marriage. The Constitution permitted Congress to enact DOMA as a means to preserve the status quo, ensure consistency in the distribution of federal marriage-based benefits, and respect policy developments in the states without implicating other states or the United States, pending the resolution of the debate taking place in the states over whether to permit same-sex marriage."

In striking down DOMA, the federal District Court in Boston ruled that it violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by treating married gay couples differently from married straight couples without any rational basis for doing so, violates the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by intruding in areas of exclusive state authority, and violates the Spending Clause in Article 1 of the Constitution by forcing Massachusetts to discriminate against its married gay citizens in order to receive certain types of federal funding.

The government's appeal disputes all three determinations.

In 1996, when Obama was running for the Illinois Senate, he told the Chicago gay newspaper Windy City Times that he favored legalizing same-sex marriage, but since that time he has expressed support only for civil unions for same-sex couples. Very recently, however, he has suggested that his feelings on the matter may be in flux.

In December, he told The Advocate: "My attitudes are evolving on this. I have always firmly believed in having a robust civil union that provides the rights and benefits under the law that marriage does. I've wrestled with the fact that marriage traditionally has had a different connotation. But I also have a lot of very close friends who are married gay or lesbian couples. And squaring that circle is something that I have not done yet, but I'm continually asking myself this question, and I do think that—I will make this observation, that I notice there is a big generational difference. When you talk to people who are in their 20s, they don't understand what the holdup is on this, regardless of their own sexual orientation."

He made similar remarks to gay blogger Joe Sudbay last October.

—Assistance: Bill Kelley


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