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April 6, 2009

Obama "respects," but apparently stops short of cheering, Iowa decision

According to The Advocate, the White House released this statement about the Iowa marriage decision:

The President respects the decision of the Iowa Supreme Court, and continues to believe that states should make their own decisions when it comes to the issue of marriage. Although President Obama supports civil unions rather than same-sex marriage, he believes that committed gay and lesbian couples should receive equal rights under the law.

The first part of this statement seems a bit tepid.  To say one "respects" a court's decision is usually code for "but that's not the outcome I had hoped for." 

If he believes the issue is properly one left to the states, one wonders why the president would use this occasion to underscore once more his opposition to same-sex marriage per se.  In the past, he has cited his personal beliefs about marriage as a religious institution.  But as a former teacher of constitutional law, Obama surely understands the difference between civil marriage and religious marriage.  Moreover, the mark of a sophisticated leader is the ability to rise above, for purposes of public policy, the limitations of one's own parochial personal beliefs.  As commentator Robert Schlesinger writes in US News & World Report, "[I]f some religious institution wants to be bigoted ... well that's their business. But the state should not affirm that sort of bigotry."

On the other hand, as the White House statement indicates, it remains the administration's official position that the federal government should recognize not only same-sex marriages but also same-sex civil unions, which would be a major innovation in federal law.

-SS

April 6, 2009 | Permalink

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