And some Obama supporters who are uncomfortable with same-sex marriage fear that in a second term, he would come under enormous pressure to back efforts to impose the legalization of such unions at the federal level.
“For right now, he has said he is going to leave it to the states. Whether he continues to ‘evolve’ — his word — toward further action, I can’t know that,” said the Rev. Joel Hunter, a spiritual adviser to the president who opposes same-sex marriage. “I can tell you without a doubt there’s a lot of fear right now from religious communities . . . about where it’s all going to go.”
In particular, they are worried that the president’s preference for state-by-state recognition will give way to the view that same-sex marriage is a guaranteed right under the Constitution. That issue is at the heart of a case that could come before the Supreme Court in its term beginning in October: It involves Proposition 8, a voter-approved California constitutional amendment that bans gay marriage.
Obama opposed Proposition 8. But if the court accepts the case, it could ask the administration for its view on whether marriage is a fundamental right that cannot be withheld from gay couples. Such a finding could sweep away state decisions on same-sex marriage, as well as the bans in 30 state constitutions.
“He’ll have to decide whether he believes the Constitution recognizes gays’ or lesbians’ equality as far as marriage is concerned,” said Theodore B. Olson, a Republican former solicitor general who is a lead lawyer challenging Proposition 8. “That’s not reconcilable with leaving it up to the states.”
It is part of a broader uncertainty stemming from the president’s decision this month to come out in favor of same-sex marriage, a shift that has upended the politics of one of the nation’s most divisive social issues and injected a wild card into the presidential race.
Obama has sought to assure his critics that the announcement was a reflection of his personal opinion and not a call to arms.
“I have to tell you that part of my hesitation on this has also been I didn’t want to nationalize the issue,” he said in a May 9 interview. “What you’re seeing is, I think, states working through this issue, in fits and starts, all across the country. Different communities are arriving at different conclusions, at different times. And I think that’s a healthy process and a healthy debate.”
Those following the issue are parsing the impact of Obama’s endorsement — and trying to suss out how far he may take a matter that is being hotly debated in Congress, in statehouses, in the courts and in living rooms around the nation.