Lead gay marriage group urges Obama to weigh in on Prop 8 case before Supreme Court

I wrote yesterday about super-lawyer Ted Olson urging the Obama administration to submit a brief to the Supreme Court arguing that California’s Prop 8, that repealed gay marriage in that state in 2008, is unconstitutional.

Today, Chris Geidner at Buzzfeed weighs in, and quotes Evan Wolfson, the President of Freedom to Marry, the lead pro-“gay marriage” organization, also calling on the Obama administration to weigh in:

The Supreme Court’s decision to hear the appeal of the Proposition 8 challenge speeds that conversation up and puts the issue front and center. And although the Obama administration is not required to weigh in on the appeal, former George W. Bush administration Solicitor General Theodore Olson, the lead lawyer fighting Proposition 8, said on Friday that he hopes the president will.

“I would hate to predict what the United States government is doing, but given the stand the president of the United States and the attorney general of the United States made with respect to marriage equality, we would certainly hope that they would participate,” Olson said, noting that the administration has not yet taken a position in the case.

That view was echoed on Sunday by Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson, who told BuzzFeed, “President Obama and the Justice Department should absolutely urge the Supreme Court to restore the freedom to marry in California.”

Geidner has more from Richard Socarides, who I also quoted yesterday:

As Richard Socarides, a lawyer and former Clinton White House official, said Sunday, “The opinion of the administration as expressed by the Department of Justice is almost always an important persuasive factor considered by the court. It is, after all, the opinion of the government.”

Since the justices are considering both the DOMA challenge, where the solicitor general’s office will be arguing on the government’s behalf, and the Proposition 8 challenge during the same term, Socarides said it’s untenable for the administration to avoid taking a position on Proposition 8.

The solicitor general is going to get asked at argument anyway what the government thinks would happen if you apply heightened scrutiny to Proposition 8,” he said. “So there is no way of avoiding it.”

gay couple

Gay couple via Shutterstock

As I’ve written before, this is one of those situations where the writing is on the wall, and it’s not a question of “if” the administration will come to our rescue, but rather “when.”  The problem for the President is that, in the past, he often seemed to ride to the rescue a bit late, almost begrudgingly.  The President’s supporters argue that his support isn’t weak, and he wasn’t “forced” into helping us at the last minute, but rather that the wheels of government turn slowly, and it takes a while to do these things, to make these kind of decisions.


But the reality is that this issue, of the President’s judicial support for gay marriage, is beginning to become a serious public relations problem for the administration at a time when they’d prefer to focus on the fiscal cliff.   It doesn’t matter if it takes the government a long time to make a decision, it appears that they’re dawdling.  The Department of Justice should have been prepared for this eventuality, that the Supreme Court would take the Prop 8 and DOMA cases, and been ready with an answer.  They should not have waited until now to consider if, when, and how they’d respond.

The statements issued by the White House and Justice on Friday, to the Washington Blade, sounded evasive (White House) and snippy (DOJ).  Especially DOJ – their answer sounded downright obnoxious.

The Obama administration has thus far stayed out of the Prop 8 case. Asked in September by the Washington Blade whether the U.S. government would weigh in, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had no comment and Nanda Chitre, a spokesperson for the Justice Department, said, “We are not a party to this litigation and would decline further comment.”

If Justice is working on the issue of whether to files briefs in these gay marriage cases, trying to determine what their appropriate response should be, if any, then their spokesperson could have just said that.  That wouldn’t have been enough, but it would have been better than what she did say, which came off snippy.  (Keep in mind, this wouldn’t be the first time that the Department of Justice stood in the way of our civil rights.)

More generally, and I’ve given this lecture before to folks in both the government and privarte sector,  PR crises are never a question of whether you’re right or wrong, or whether circumstances are justifiably trying your hands, or not.  It’s a question of how people perceive what you’re doing.

I think the administration’s  handling of this issue already coming across badly, and I fear it’s going to get worse fast.

I think a lot of people in the administration have their heart in the right place on these issues, but far too often their Department of Justice seems to be the impediment to justice.  And that needs to change.

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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21 Responses to “Lead gay marriage group urges Obama to weigh in on Prop 8 case before Supreme Court”

  1. Twist says:

    Wake up, Obama. You are directly tethered to proposition 8. We lost our marriage rights at the same time that you won the presidency in 2008. These events were not separate matters. They were established on the same ballot with your name on it. You must do your part to help annihilate it. Please make a statement immediately.

  2. A reader in Colorado says:

    Something needs to be done about Scalia, who needs to be demanded to recuse himself. If running around the country defending his anti-gay bigotry is not a straight up case for absolute recusal, then nothing is.

    The man simply cannot be unbiased about matters concerning gay rights. He is a bigot and he should never be part of a case about gay people and their rights.


  3. I agree. I still use it for the Google.

  4. Yes yes yes, got it :)

  5. A reader in Colorado says:

    You really want to piss off Harry Reid. Those confirmation hearings would be a real hoot.

  6. Stratplayer says:

    Isn’t it about time we jettisoned the term “gay marriage” once and for all? Simple “marriage equality” emphasizes that we are not talking about something distinct called “gay marriage” but just plain “marriage” for all. Same sex couples want to be married, not “gay married.” A pet peeve of mine, but I don’t think I’m an outlier.

  7. FLL says:

    Eric Holder and his dysfunctional Justice Department act like they are completely removed from the reality of modern America. I’d describe him as an “Insulated Beverage Holder.”

  8. BeccaM says:

    I’d put that replacement appointment second on the list, right after replacing Treasury Sec’y Tim Geithner with Paul Krugman.

  9. Skeptical Cicada says:

    Was it this site where I saw him referred to as “Place Holder”? lol

  10. FLL says:

    Although it’s not unheard of, an attorney general who stays on for two full terms has been the exception rather than the rule in modern history. If there ever was an attorney general who richly deserved a subtle hint to leave, or just an unceremonious boot, it’s Eric Holder. What a great New Year’s resolution for the administration: take the work of the Justice Department seriously for a change.

  11. Amber says:

    I think it’s about time we joined the 21st century, please get out of the way Republicons! http://www.ficksitall.blogspot.com

  12. Naja pallida says:

    Eric Holder is on par with John Boehner for incompetence, fecklessness and corporate collusion. If Obama were truly trying to project a change of direction for his second term, this would be the first replacement in his cabinet, and he would do it in a very public way – not simply allowing him to “retire” to a high paying job as a lobbyist.

    Despite what the Obots so desperately want to believe, there is yet no evidence that Obama has any intention of changing the way he operates. So far, he is still the ultimate capitulator and equivocator, the “fiscal cliff” lies are pretty distinct evidence. He’s prepared to sell the ship out from under us without even needing to, all because Republicans are crying. And on other issues, especially those of equal rights, he will always need to be dragged kicking and screaming across the line. Getting him to simply do the right thing is not possible when he seems to prefer twisting himself into a pretzel to capitulate on every issue, and then when others carry all the water and get something done, claims a victory. It’s downright craven.

  13. Naja pallida says:

    You mean an apostrophe isn’t simply the punctuational equivalent of warning of an impending s?

  14. Naja pallida says:

    It’s a bad word if you say it right… uuuuuuurges.

  15. nicho says:

    Their, they’re, there — it’ll be OK.

  16. Tawwaba says:

    Headline typo: urges not urge’s

  17. Apostropocalypso says:

    Apostrophe police alert! “urge’s” should be “urges”!

  18. Skeptical Cicada says:


    Let’s also never forget Holder’s petulant attack on people who were commencing perfectly legitimate civil rights actions against the law firm that initially took over the defense of DOMA. http://www.politico.com/blogs/joshgerstein/0411/Eric_Holder_rejects_attacks_on_Paul_Clement_over_DOMA_defense.html

  19. A reader in Colorado says:

    Less the rosy picture constantly painted by his advocates, President Obama has always been weak and late, and sometimes passively hostile when not actively hostile the gay community and justifying the hostile behavior on the grounds of dubious necessity to “follow the law” (he doesn’t seem to need to do that about war criminals, just saying).

    His “accomplishments” have always been painted in rosy terms. The truth is on every single gay issue other than scraps, he’s been dragged to it. His method has always been to ignore, and then be annoyed and work to clean the gay off his plate, because he just doesn’t want it to be there. Sometimes that’s good for gay folks in the manner of Obama feeding the starving dog that is the gay community to get it to be quiet. More often, there is a general pissy annoyance that precedes such a feeding.

    This is not a surprise from Obama, it’s par for the course. What I am surprised at is if anyone would expect anything different.

    And, this attorney general has been an ahistorical tragedy. The quintessential challenges of our time, he’s utterly failed. This country is not about working to kill gay rights anymore, and those who keep on with their never ending hate campaign have become anachronisms so fast they are like Wile E. Coyote walking off the cliff with air under his feet. And it’s not about people smoking a little weed. The real challenges of our time, the pursuit of justice for those who impoverished millions, for shreds of corporate accountability for mass criminals, polluters, etc, never undertaken seriously at all, just a few sacrificial lambs selected and slaps on the wrist.

    It’s time for Eric Holder to go. Whatever the Obama administration JD chooses to say or do or not do about Prop 8, that’s on the Obama administration and their reputation; I really don’t care what they do . But Eric Holder has not been an attorney general that has been acting as the positive figure for our time he should have been.

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