Feature

Gay marriage: Obama’s coy evolution

President Obama has instructed the Justice Department to stop upholding the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

President Obama took a “courageous” stance last week in instructing the Justice Department to stop upholding the Defense of Marriage Act, said the Los Angeles Times in an editorial. The 1996 law, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, fully “deserves to sink into oblivion.” Reversing his earlier position, Obama rightly concluded that the law, known as DOMA, is unconstitutional because it classifies people based on their sexual orientation. Under its provisions, federal benefits like Social Security survivor payments are unfairly denied to same-sex couples in the eight states that recognize gay marriage. Now Obama has “set the stage for toppling a panoply of laws, ordinances, and practices that have long placed homosexuals at a disadvantage” in housing, the workplace, and adoptions. For good reason, there’s “a high bar” for a president to decline to support a law on the books, said Adam Liptak in The New York Times. Precedents exist, “but not many.”

That hardly makes this decision courageous, said Rich Lowry in National Review. In fact, it exposes Obama as a “closeted supporter of gay marriage who’s too cowardly and cynical to be open about it.” His administration claims that “there’s no reasonable defense” of the current law, but how can that be? Marriage has been defined as a union between a man and a woman “since before the country’s founding.” Now we’ll have the spectacle of Obama continuing to “duck and cover under the dodge that his position on gay marriage is ‘evolving.’” Don’t be fooled by the playacting, said Michael A. Walsh in the New York Post. This amounts to “an astonishing philosophical power grab” by a president “who makes Tricky Dick Nixon look spontaneous and transparent.”

As a matter of “policy and simple decency,” Obama acted correctly, said The Washington Post. But he may come to regret his refusal to defend a federal law. What would the president think, for example, if a conservative Republican administration sabotaged the Obama health-care law by simply refusing to defend its constitutionality? In a strange way, though, Obama is doing Republicans a favor, said Steve Chapman in the Chicago Tribune. Taking the federal government out of the marriage business would leave red states and blue states free to make their own choices. “You want to let gays walk down the aisle? Knock yourself out. You want to deny them the joys of matrimony? Be our guest.”

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