- Obama administration made friend-of-the-court brief Thursday asking Supreme Court to overturn Proposition 8, which bans gay marriage in California
- First time a president has asked high court to expand rights of same-sex couples to wed
- Case will be argued beginning March 26
The Obama administration urged the Supreme Court on Thursday to overturn California’s same-sex marriage ban in a historic act that would affect several other states that offer benefits to gay and lesbian couples.
The administration’s friend-of-the-court brief today was notable as it marked the first time any U.S. president spurred the high court to expand the rights of gays and lesbians to marry.
The ban, otherwise known as Proposition 8, prohibits same-sex couples from marrying and was approved by voters in California in 2008; the case is set to be argued on March 26.
Showing support: The Obama administration has asked the Supreme Court Thursday to over turn Proposition 8, a 2008 law that banned gay marriage
California is one of eight states that give same-sex couples the legal benefits of marriage through civil unions and domestic partnerships. The other states are: Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Nevada, and Oregon.
None of these states, however, allow gay couples to marry. The administration suggested that it is unconstitutional to block these couples from wedding, in direct opposition of the 1996Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
The administration wrote: 'They establish homes and lives together, support each other financially, share the joys and burdens of raising children, and provide care through illness and comfort at the moment of death.’
Mr Obama's position, if adopted by the court, would likely result in gay marriage becoming legal in the seven other states. The president was publically against gay marriage in his first term, famously saying that his views were ‘evolving,’ and also became the first president to openly support the institution.
He told ABC News’ Robin Roberts in an interview last May that he continues to believe ‘this is an issue that is going to be worked out at the local level, because historically, this has not been a federal issue, what’s recognized as a marriage.’
Point of contention: Protestors of Prop 8 pictured in Los Angeles in 2008; its supporters say that the law is discriminatory
Moment of change: The Supreme Court justices will begin hearing arguments on March 26; the ruling is due at the end of June
Mr Obama, who himself is a former constitutional law professor, signed off on the administration's legal argument last week following lengthy discussions with Attorney General Eric Holder and Solicitor General Donald Verrilli.
In a statement following the filing, Mr Holder said 'the government seeks to vindicate the defining constitutional ideal of equal treatment under the law.'
Friend-of-the-court briefs are not legally binding. But the government's opinion in particular could carry some weight with the justices when they hear oral arguments in the case on March 26.
Despite the potentially wide-ranging implications of the administration's brief, it still falls short of what gay rights advocates and the attorneys who will argue against Proposition 8 had hoped for.
Those parties had pressed the president to urge the Supreme Court to not only overturn California's ban, but also declare all gay marriage bans unconstitutional.
Upholding the Constitution: Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement 'the government seeks to vindicate the defining constitutional ideal of equal treatment under the law'
Still, marriage equality advocates publicly welcomed the president's legal positioning.
'President Obama and the solicitor general have taken another historic step forward consistent with the great civil rights battles of our nation's history,' said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign and co-founder of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which brought the legal challenge to Prop 8.
The president raised expectations that he would back a broad brief during his inauguration address on January 21. He said the nation's 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, than surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well,' he added.
A Field Poll found that California voters now favor same-sex marriage in a near two-to-one margin, the highest level of support LGBT marriage has ever had in the state.
As Reuters notes, the findings signify a paradigm shift in voters, who in 2008 voted to approve Prop 8. Those who still did not favor gay marriage tended to be voters who were 65 or older, with 48 percent against.