And Here's Why Obama's Evolution Doesn't Mean Anything

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
May 9 2012 5:08 PM

And Here's Why Obama's Evolution Doesn't Mean Anything

Oddly enough it fell to John Cook, and not someone at Slate, to make the hard-hearted argument that Barack Obama wimped out today. He can't rely on the tape, because ABC is parsing it out. He relies on the write-up which suggests Obama stuck by his federalist guns. Cook:

There are currently at least three cases winding their way toward federal courts that address the issue of whether (among other things) the equal protection clause of the constitution guarantees gay men and women the same access to marriage rights as heterosexual men and women—the Proposition 8 case, in which David Boies and Ted Olson challenged California's ban on gay marriage, and several challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars gay men and woman from receiving federal marriage benefits and allows states to refuse to recognize valid gay marriages. Obama's Justice Department has admirably declined to defend the constitutionality of DOMA. But the position he enunciated today is in opposition to Boies and Olson: Obama is saying that if he were a judge, he would have rejected Boies and Olson's constitutional arguments and affirmed the right of Californians to enshrine bigotry in their state constitution.
Advertisement

We don't need to go that far. I'm sure that Judge Obama would find some rationale for legalizing gay marriage in his state or district, if it came up, just as the Goodrich and Iowa judges found their reasons. Cook's right -- Obama is saying remarkably very little when he reveals "personally, my personal position." The problem, when it comes to marriage, is that there's not much else he can say. Before he spoke, 38 states had amended their constitutions to explicitly define marriage as between men and women. There was no comparable federalist issue when Roe v. Wade was decided, say -- only later did states start fighting about what their founding documents should say about fetal ensoulment.

Now: Obama's not quite so federalist on other burning issues. His administration is suing Arizona over SB 1070. It's not suing North Carolina over Amendment One. Today's big achievement, as my colleague Emily Bazelon puts it, was that "Obama caught up to his administration’s legal position... without going beyond it." That's... not terribly inspiring!

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

TODAY IN SLATE

History

Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
History
Sept. 29 2014 11:45 PM The Self-Made Man The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 29 2014 3:10 PM The Lonely Teetotaler Prudie counsels a letter writer who doesn’t drink alcohol—and is constantly harassed by others for it.
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal, but … What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 29 2014 11:56 PM Innovation Starvation, the Next Generation Humankind has lots of great ideas for the future. We need people to carry them out.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 29 2014 11:32 PM The Daydream Disorder Is sluggish cognitive tempo a disease or disease mongering?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.