WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said the U.S. Supreme Court's recent move to uphold lower-court rulings allowing gay marriage in several states may be its most significant decision during his time in office, he told the New Yorker magazine in comments published on Monday.
In declining to decide whether states can prohibit gay marriage, the court last week rejected seven different appeals of court rulings striking down gay marriage bans, effectively giving the go-ahead to same-sex marriage in 11 states that previously outlawed it.
“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,” Obama was quoted as saying in an article about his legal legacy.
Among major Supreme Court decisions during his six years in office was a 2012 ruling upholding the constitutionality of Obama's healthcare reform law, known as Obamacare.
Obama, who in 2012 became the first U.S. president to publicly express support for gay marriage, told the magazine he now believed the Constitution required all states to allow same-sex marriage.
“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," Obama said, citing the landmark 1954 decision banning racial segregation in schools.
"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," he added.
Obama said he had no retirement advice "whatsoever" to offer senior court liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who some liberal activists say should step down while Obama has a chance to name her successor.
"Justice Ginsburg is doing a wonderful job. She is one of my favorite people," he said. "Life tenure means she gets to decide, not anybody else, when she chooses to go.”
Asked if he would ever consider following William Howard Taft's example and eventually join the Supreme Court after leaving the White House, Obama said that while he loved the law intellectually, "being a justice is a little bit too monastic for me. Particularly after having spent six years and what will be eight years in this bubble, I think I need to get outside a little bit more.”
(Writing by Peter Cooney; Editing by Diane Craft)