Appearing Monday on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” Joe Biden made the most high-profile statement yet of the Obama-Biden position on same-sex marriage.
Miss DeGeneres asked where he stands on California‘s Proposition 8, a 14-word proposal that says, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”
Those exact words were enacted originally as a California statute in 2000, when 61 percent of voters approved Proposition 22, the California Defense of Marriage Act. This May, in a 4-3 decision, the California Supreme Court threw out Proposition 22, declaring same-sex marriage a “right” under the California Constitution.
Proposition 8 would amend that constitution to include the 14 words Proposition 22 originally made state law. If Proposition 8 wins, same-sex marriage will be prohibited in California. If Proposition 8 loses, same-sex marriage will be permitted.
In other words, if you are against same-sex marriage, you want Proposition 8 to win. If you are for same-sex marriage, you want Proposition 8 to lose. There is no middle ground.
In the vice-presidential debate, moderator Gwen Ifill asked Mr. Biden directly whether he supports same-sex marriage.
“Do you support gay marriage?” she asked.
“No, Barack Obama nor I support redefining from a civil side what constitutes marriage,” said Mr. Biden. “We do not support that.” Were this actually Mr. Biden and Mr. Obama’s position, they would be for Proposition 8. But they are not.
“If I lived in California, I’d clearly vote against Prop. 8,” Mr. Biden told Miss DeGeneres.
The actual Obama-Biden position on same-sex marriage goes beyond merely opposing Proposition 8. In fact, their position sets the stage for liberal federal judges to impose same-sex marriage nationwide by forcing states that have passed their own acts in defense of marriage to recognize same-sex marriages contracted in states such as California, where state judges declare a state “right” to same-sex marriage.
In June, Mr. Obama sent a letter to the San Francisco-based Alice B. Toklas Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Democratic Club. It was read at the club’s June 29 meeting and reprinted in full in the July 2 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle under the headline “Obama opposes proposed ban on gay marriage.”
Yet that was not all Mr. Obama said he opposes — or supports — in this letter. He also declared he opposes all state constitutional amendments that limit marriage to a man and a woman, that he opposes a federal amendment to prevent states from being forced to recognize same-sex marriages, that he wants to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act and wants to fully open the military to gays.
“I want to congratulate all of you who have shown your love for each other by getting married these last few weeks,” Mr. Obama wrote. “I support extending fully equal rights and benefits to same-sex couples under both state and federal law. That is why I support repealing the Defense of Marriage Act and the ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy, and the passage of laws to protect LGBT Americans from hate crimes and employment discrimination. And that is why I oppose the divisive and discriminatory efforts to amend the California Constitution, and similar efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution or those of other states.”
To make clear that he wants no distinction in law between traditional married couples and same-sex couples — including in laws regarding the adoption of babies — Mr. Obama sent a second letter Aug. 1 to the Family Equality Council, a group that says it envisions “a country that celebrates a diversity of family constellations.”
“We also have to do more to support and strengthen LGBT families,” Mr. Obama told this council. “And that’s why we have to extend equal treatment in our family and adoption laws.”
The federal Defense of Marriage Act that Mr. Obama wants repealed does two things. It defines marriage for federal purposes as the union of a man and a woman, and it says states will not be forced to recognize same-sex marriages contracted in other states, as they ordinarily would under the Constitution’s “Full Faith and Credit Clause.”
The Full Faith and Credit Clause requires all states to recognize the judicial acts of other states but says, “Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.”
If the policies Mr. Obama supports come to pass, California will have same-sex marriage, and the federal law protecting other states from recognizing California’s same-sex marriages will be repealed.
Then it would be up to the sort of federal judges Mr. Obama would appoint to decide whether the Full Faith and Credit Clause - barring an act of Congress saying otherwise - would require every other state in the Union to accept California’s marriage law as their own.
Terence P. Jeffrey is a nationally syndicated columnist.