US & Canada

Obama: Court must end California gay marriage ban

Protest in favour of Proposition 8, California (file pic, November 2008)
Image caption The debate over Proposition 8 was played out on the streets of California

A California ban on gay marriages should be overturned by the US Supreme Court, the Obama administration says.

In a legal brief filed ahead of arguments scheduled for late March, the justice department says the ban - known as Proposition 8 - is unconstitutional.

Outlawing same-sex marriage while offering marriage-like rights under law contravenes the right to equal protection under law, the brief says.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments on two same-sex marriage issues.

As well as Proposition 8, the nine justices will consider the Defense of Marriage Act, a Clinton-era piece of US federal legislation that defines marriage as solely being between a man and a woman.

Media captionObama in May 2012: "Same sex couples should be able to get married"

The Obama administration is not defending the legislation in front of the court.

Mr Obama himself offered his personal support for gay marriage in a TV interview in 2012, reversing a previously held position.

But until now he had not yet translated a personal viewpoint into a legal or legislative agenda.

"The same evolution that I've gone through is an evolution that the country as a whole has gone through. And I think it is a profoundly positive thing," Mr Obama said on Friday.

"When the Supreme Court essentially called the question by taking this case about California's law, I didn't feel like that was something that this administration could avoid. I felt it was important for us to articulate what I believe and what this administration stands for."

Mr Obama signed off on the brief, written for the administration by Solicitor General Donald Verrilli - the man who argued the case for the Mr Obama's healthcare reform act before the Supreme Court in 2012.


Proposition 8 was approved by a majority of California voters in November 2008, and has faced a series of legal challenges ever since.

It was challenged by the state but upheld by the state Supreme Court, and overturned by a federal court following a private legal challenge.

In the brief to the Supreme Court, the Obama administration makes a clear statement that gay couples should be afforded the right to marry in states where they are offered legal rights as domestic partners.

"California law provides to same-sex couples registered as domestic partners all the legal incidents of marriage, but it nonetheless denies them the designation of marriage allowed to their opposite-sex counterparts," the brief says.

"Proposition 8 thus violates equal protection."

"They establish homes and lives together, support each other financially, share the joys and burdens of raising children, and provide care through illness and comfort at the moment of death,'' the administration wrote.

Media captionHow one Maryland couple invited the internet to their wedding

In a statement issued after the brief was filed, Attorney General Eric Holder said the government was seeking "to vindicate the defining constitutional ideal of equal treatment under the law".

"The issues before the Supreme Court in this case and the Defense of Marriage Act case are not just important to the tens of thousands of Americans who are being denied equal benefits and rights under our laws, but to our nation as a whole," said Mr Holder.

Analysts say the brief does not place the administration behind a push for a federal guarantee of the right for same-sex couples to marry.

In addition, it does not address the situation in the large majority of US states which do not provide legal equality, or have constitutional amendments banning gay marriage.

Nevertheless, leading campaigners welcomed the move.

"The president has turned the inspirational words of his second inaugural address into concrete action by calling on our nation's highest court to put an end to discrimination against loving, committed gay and lesbian couples and their families," said the Human Rights Council, a lesbian, gay and transgender advocacy group.

Mr Obama himself was deeply involved both in the decision to pursue to the case and to choose this line of argument, Supreme Court analyst Lyle Denniston wrote on court-watching website Scotus Blog.

"In essence, the position of the federal government would simultaneously give some support to marriage equality while showing some respect for the rights of states to regulate that institution."

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