Although one might surmise that Obama would apply a similar analysis to state bans on same-sex marriage under the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, he has not said so explicitly. But he has opposed such bans -- including not only measures aimed at abolishing existing gay marriage rights (such as California's Proposition 8) but also measures aimed at foreclosing such rights (such as North Carolina's Amendment 1).
At the same time, Obama has said (while serving in the U.S. Senate), "Personally, I do believe that marriage is between a man and a woman." Instead, he has advocated "civil unions" that give gay couples "all the rights" of straight couples -- except the right to call their relationship a marriage.
Here is how he explained the distinction in that 2007 debate: "We should try to disentangle what has historically been the issue of the word marriage, which has religious connotations to some people, from the civil rights that are given to couples." The people Obama had in mind include not only older swing voters but also crucial parts of his base: Seven out of 10 black voters supported Proposition 8 in 2008, as did most Latinos. Meanwhile, Obama does not want to alienate young voters, who overwhelmingly support gay marriage.
So much for the crass political calculations underlying Obama's straddle. Believe it or not, there is also a principle here: The "sacred institution" that Mitt Romney, Obama's presumptive Republican opponent, is so keen to preserve existed long before governments started doling out marriage licenses and should not depend on the state for its continued legitimacy.
Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @jacobsullum. To find out more about Jacob Sullum and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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