Obama camp to consider legal opposition to Proposition 8 gay marriage ban

Think the Obama administration is too wrapped up in sequestration to worry about anything else? Think again.

Word on the street is the president is considering directing the federal government to file a legal brief joining opposition to California’s gay marriage ban. Known as a “friend of the court” brief, it would allow the administration to weigh in on the case.

Proponents of Proposition 8, California’s ban on gay marriage, stand aside opponents of the measure outside a federal courthouse in San Francisco. Photo: AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

The case will be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on March 26. According to high court rules, the administration has until Thursday to submit such a brief in this case, Hollingsworth v. Perry.

Given President Barack Obama’s support for same-sex marriage, news outlets are reporting that it is likely the administration’s brief would side with those who argue that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional and should be struck down. And while such a brief would not necessarily sway the justices, the arguments of a sitting president’s administration traditionally are given weight.

The day after the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the Perry case, it will hear another same-sex marriage case, Windsor v. United States, which involves a constitutional challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the 1996 law that bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. The ruling in one or both of these cases could alter the legal and political landscape in the debate over same-sex marriage.

As a recent Pew Research legal analysis of the cases notes, the Supreme Court’s decision to take the DOMA case may have been influenced by the fact that it involves the relatively narrow issue of whether the federal government must respect each state’s definition of marriage, rather than the broader question of whether all states must allow same-sex marriage. The Proposition 8 case, in contrast, involves a decision by a state (in this case, California) to prohibit gays and lesbians from marrying. Some legal experts say the Proposition 8 case could, in theory, be the better vehicle for a decision on whether the U.S. Constitution requires the states to recognize gay marriage, though the high court could end up ruling more narrowly to uphold or strike down only California’s ban on gay marriage.

Pew Research surveys have shown rising public support for gay marriage in the United States, with 48% of Americans in favor of it, according to aggregated data from surveys conducted in 2012.

While his decisions on this and other issues (Obamacare anyone?) are highly controversial, one cannot call President Obama a sideline president. He has weighed in with history making stances on a few issues. It will surely define his legacy.

Do you think the president should be weighing in on matters such as marriage?

About John Hilton

I grew up in Susquehanna County, Pa. and graduated Syracuse University with a dual degree in journalism/political science in 1998. After working for nearly three years for a weekly paper in upstate New York, I came to southcentral Pennsylvania. I spent 13 years as a reporter and editor for The Sentinel in Carlisle and joined the York Daily Record as religion reporter in September 2011.
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