You have to hand it to President Obama–it took him a long time to evolve on marriage, but now that he has, he’s moving ahead with the fervor of a convert. The latest example: the announcement from Attorney General Eric Holder that state attorney generals should feel free to ignore laws that they feel to be discriminatory, such as bans on same-sex marriage. Six attorneys general have already said that they will not defend marriage bans in their state.
“If I were attorney general in Kansas in 1953, I would not have defended a Kansas statute that put in place separate-but-equal facilities,” Holder said, referring to the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case that struck down segregated classrooms.
While Holder is the one doing the talking, the sentiments are coming from his boss. Holder’s comments throw fuel on the fire over marriage bans at the state level and injects the Administration into a conversation that it could easily have avoided. However, they are in keeping with Obama’s obvious decision to ensure that history judges him well on the leading civil rights issue of the day.
Consider how much the Administration has done across all departments to cement the Supreme Court decisions on marriage equality:
- The Pentagon has moved with impressive speed to ensure that same-sex couples get the same rights as heterosexual couples, with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel slamming state National Guards for dragging their feet.
- The State Department applied its visa application rules to bi-national married couples.
- The Treasury Department and the IRS announced that gay and lesbian married couples will be treated the same for tax purposes as any other married couple, no matter where they live.
- Diving deep into the minutiae of law, the Department of Justice announced earlier this month that it was granting same-sex couples the same rights against testifying against a spouse and in bankruptcy cases as it does to other married couples.
The irony is that Obama was for marriage equality before he was against it. As a state senator in Illinois, he supported the right to marry, only to change his tune as his career ambitions grew. There’s every reason to believe that his current zeal would have been there all along if he hadn’t sacrificed it to political expediency. There’s no surprise in hearing Obama’s response after giving the television interview in which he finally expressed his support for marriage equality: “I feel so good about that.” It must have been a relief to put aside the charade after all those years.
In any case, Obama doesn’t seem content to let his legacy rest on the federal government’s response to marriage equality. He seems intent on making sure that the change is complete. Given that the Supreme Court will likely have to reconsider its piecemeal approach to marriage in the 2014-2015 term, Obama stands a good chance of presiding over a national right to marry. In the meantime, he is keeping up the momentum for change. For a man who is often criticized for not knowing how to use the power of the presidency, he’s doing a pretty good job of it when it comes to marriage equality.