Although President Barack Obama previously said the definition of marriage should be decided locally, he now believes the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to same same-sex marriage in all states.
He also suggested that the Supreme Court's decision earlier this month to not rule on same-sex marriage is the hallmark of his tenure in an interview recently published in the October 27, 2014 issue of The New Yorker.
In the interview, President Obama picked the silence of the Supreme Court on same-sex marriage when writer Jeffrey Toobin asked him to name the best Supreme Court decision of his career.
"In some ways, the decision that was just handed down to not do anything about what states are doing on same-sex marriage may end up being as consequential — from my perspective, a positive sense — as anything that's been done," said Obama.
"Because I think it really signals that although the Court was not quite ready — it didn't have sufficient votes to follow Loving v. Virginia (1967 decision ruling that states could no longer ban racial intermarriage) and go ahead and indicate an equal-protection right across the board — it was a consequential and powerful signal of the changes that have taken place in society and that the law is having to catch up," he said.
Although his administration hasn't yet made the argument before the Supreme Court, Obama told Toobin that he now believes the Constitution requires that all states allow same-sex marriage.
"Ultimately, I think the Equal Protection Clause does guarantee same-sex marriage in all fifty states," he said. "But, as you know, courts have always been strategic. There have been times where the stars were aligned and the Court, like a thunderbolt, issues a ruling like Brown v. Board of Education, but that's pretty rare. And, given the direction of society, for the Court to have allowed the process to play out the way it has may make the shift less controversial and more lasting."
This is a change in position from when he first announced he supports gay marriage in a May 2012 interview with ABC News. In that interview he said he is no longer opposed to gay marriage but did not believe that the definition of marriage is a federal issue.
"And what you're seeing is, I think, states working through this issue — in fits and starts, all across the country. Different communities are arriving at different conclusions, at different times. And I think that's a healthy process and a healthy debate. And I continue to believe that this is an issue that is gonna be worked out at the local level, because historically, this has not been a federal issue, what's recognized as a marriage," he said.
In the recent interview he added that his administration has worked hard at diversifying the federal bench to include more minorities and gays.
"I think there are some particular groups that historically have been underrepresented — like Latinos and Asian-Americans — that represent a larger and larger portion of the population. And so for them to be able to see folks in robes that look like them is going to be important. When I came into office, I think there was one openly gay judge who had been appointed. We've appointed ten," bragged Obama.
The added diversity he explained "speaks to the larger shifts in our society, where what's always been this great American strength — this stew that we are — is part and parcel of every institution, both in the public sector as well as in the private sector."
Many conservatives decried the Supreme Court's decision to remain silent on the issue this month.
"Unfortunately, by failing to take up these marriage cases, the High Court will allow rogue lower court judges who have ignored history and true legal precedent to silence the elected representatives of the people and the voice of the people themselves by overturning state provisions on marriage," explained Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.
"Even more alarming, lower court judges are undermining our form of government and the rights and freedoms of citizens to govern themselves. This judicially led effort to force same sex 'marriage' on people will have negative consequences for our Republic, not only as it relates to natural marriage but also undermining the rule of and respect for law," he said.