Online Extra: Wedding Bell Blues: President weighs in as Election Day nears
by Seth Hemmelgarn
President Barack Obama has endorsed marriage equality measures in three states, just days before voters decide whether to allow same-sex marriage.
The Obama campaign issued almost identical statements in Maine, Maryland, and Washington that point out he "does not weigh in on every single ballot measure in every state."
However, "The president believes in treating everyone fairly and equality, with dignity and respect," the campaign said.
In Maine, voters will get to decide on Question 1 on their ballot: "Do you want to allow the state of Maine to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples?"
"The president believes same sex couples should be treated equally and supports Question 1," the campaign said in a statement October 25, the same day the president issued endorsements in the other two states.
Mainers United for Marriage campaign manager Matt McTighe responded by stating, "President Obama made history earlier this year when he became the first sitting president to endorse same-sex marriage. Today, he spoke out in support of the thousands of loving, committed same-sex couples in Maine who want to accept the responsibility and joy that go along with marriage. We are grateful for his support."
The Obama campaign issued its endorsement in Maryland by stating, "Maryland's same-sex marriage law would treat all Maryland couples equally, and that is why the president supports Question 6."
Marylanders for Marriage Equality campaign manager Josh Levin stated, "We're very grateful for President Obama's support of Question 6. Like a majority of Marylanders, he believes in treating everyone fairly and equally under the law. Many voters identify with his journey on the issue and his leadership has been instrumental in jumpstarting conversation on marriage equality around dinner table – and in changing attitudes on the issue."
It took Obama several years to fully support marriage equality, which he did in May in an interview on ABC.
The Washington statement said that state's "same-sex marriage law would treat all Washington couples equally, and this is why the president supports a vote to approve Referendum 74."
Washington United for Marriage campaign manager Zach Silk responded in a statement that said, "We're now in the home stretch, mobilizing thousands of volunteers with the largest ground game in Washington ballot history. We feel momentum is on our side, and having the president weigh in on approving Referendum 74 puts an extra gust of wind in our sails.
A measure that would amend Minnesota's constitution to ban same-sex marriages will be before voters there November 6. Obama issued opposition to the ban in April.
Olson discusses Prop 8 case, Supreme Court
With the U.S. Supreme Court expected to decide next month whether to take up California's Proposition 8 same-sex marriage ban, Theodore Olson, one of the lead attorneys in the Hollingsworth v. Perry federal lawsuit, expressed hope recently that efforts by him and others would help the court decide in their favor.
Olson, who spoke October 18 at San Francisco's Commonwealth Club, said that from the beginning, he and attorney David Boies have tried "to go out and talk to everybody we can" about the issue.
It's not true in all cases, Olson acknowledged, but "If you talk to people about these issue, their objections, if they have them, tend to recede."
Olson said their case makes it easier for the Supreme Court to support marriage equality.
"Justices are human beings," he said, and he was optimistic about the impact that knowing about same-sex couples would have on the court.
In Hollingsworth v. Perry, U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker ruled in August 2010 that Prop 8 is unconstitutional. A federal appeals court later upheld Walker's ruling, though on much narrower grounds. Prop 8 backers quickly appealed, and the high court is expected to decide whether to take the case, along with several lawsuits related to the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, November 20.
Olson said the Prop 8 case could possibly be argued in March or April and decided by June.
At his recent talk, Olson also retraced the federal case, which was originally known as Perry v. Schwarzenegger .
He recalled the formation of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which brought the case the day after the California Supreme Court ruled 6-1 in May 2009 that Prop 8 was constitutional.
When he was brought in by director Rob Reiner and his wife Michele, Olson said, "A lot of people thought I wouldn't be sympathetic to the issue, but I was." He said that not wanting to be "the most prominent figure out there," he reached out to Boies. The men had famously argued on opposite sides in the 2000 Bush v. Gore lawsuit, the case that resulted in George W. Bush becoming president. (Olson represented Bush.)
He said they felt the Prop 8 lawsuit "needed to be brought by people prepared to take it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court ... experienced lawyers that knew what might happen along the way."
Olson recalled that in arguing the case, they sought to demonstrate several points, including through witness testimony, "What is the harm being done to individuals by being denied equality and decency and respect. We're putting in our state charter a provision that says the relationships between these two people are not as respected ... and what does that mean to have to be able to explain yourself constantly" when describing who one's partner is.
He said Walker's 134-page August 2010 opinion is "a masterful piece of work."
Walker had tried to allow the 2010 trial to be broadcast live via video, an attempt that the justices stopped in what Olson called "one of the not more glorious moments" of the high court.
However, Olson noted, the proceedings in San Francisco were recorded, and he said, "Someday, the American people will see this. It's a historic document. ... The things that went on during that trial, the American people should see."
Wedding Bell Blues is an online column looking at various issues related to the marriage equality fight in California and elsewhere. Please send column ideas or tips to Seth Hemmelgarn at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (415) 861-5019. Wedding Bell Blues appears every other Tuesday.