Obama on Prop 8 case: Country’s evolution on gay marriage ‘profoundly positive’

President Obama said Friday his personal evolution in support of gay marriage reflects broader public support and helped convince him that his administration could not avoid weighing in on the Supreme Court’s review of California’s same-sex marriage ban.

“I felt it was important for us to articulate what I believe and what this administration stands for,” Obama said a day after the Justice Department filed a court brief arguing that Proposition 8 — a voter initiative that amended the California Constitution in 2008 to limit marriage to a man and a woman — violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.

“The same evolution that I’ve gone through is an evolution that the country as a whole has gone through,” Obama said during a news conference at the White House. “And I think it is a profoundly positive thing.”

The White House’s entry for the first time into the legal battle over Prop 8 was hailed by gay rights advocates, but the administration stopped short of endorsing a constitutional right to marry that would apply nationwide. Though Obama said he personally endorses that right, the White House had said it is a question that should be decided at the state level.

Still, the administration’s friend-of-the-court brief said the court should review laws banning same-sex marriage under “heightened scrutiny.”

“We’ve put forward a basic principle, which applies to all equal protection cases,” the president said. “Whenever a particular group is being discriminated against, the Court asks the question, ‘What’s the rational for this?’ And it better be a good reason. And if you don’t have a good reason, we’re going to strike it down.”

Obama added that if he were a court justice, he would probably advance the idea that if Prop 8 is unconstitutional, so are any similar laws in other states.

“But I’m not a judge, I’m the president,” he said. “So the basic principle, though, is let’s treat everybody fairly. Let’s treat everybody equally.”

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Aaron Blake | March 1, 2013