But, Earnest -- and the White House -- might want to dismount that high horse very carefully given the president's long, slow and very political evolution on gay marriage.
(Nota bene: Yes, I know the possible discriminatory behavior that the Indiana and Arkansas laws could allow is not the same thing as the debate over whether or not two gay people should be allowed to get married. But the issues are intertwined in lots and lots of ways and so, to my mind, are worth exploring.)
Remember that when President Obama ran for the nation's highest office in 2008, he opposed gay marriage. “I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman," Obama told pastor Rick Warren during that campaign. "Now, for me as a Christian, it is also a sacred union. God's in the mix."
(Back in his 2004 Senate campaign, Obama said: "I am a fierce supporter of domestic-partnership and civil-union laws. I am not a supporter of gay marriage as it has been thrown about, primarily just as a strategic issue. I think that marriage, in the minds of a lot of voters, has a religious connotation.")
By 2010, Obama acknowledged he was in the process of evolving on the issue. "I have been to this point unwilling to sign on to same-sex marriage primarily because of my understandings of the traditional definitions of marriage," Obama told a group of liberal bloggers in the fall of 2010, according to Politico's Josh Gerstein. "But I also think you’re right that attitudes evolve, including mine."
In May 2012, Obama sat down with ABC's Robin Roberts with the express purpose of announcing his decision to support gay marriage. Here's the key excerpt from that interview:
I've stood on the side of broader equality for the LGBT community. And I had hesitated on gay marriage — in part, because I thought civil unions would be sufficient. That that was something that would give people hospital visitation rights and other elements that we take for granted. And I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people, you know, the word marriage was something that evokes very powerful traditions, religious beliefs, and so forth.But I have to tell you that over the course of several years, as I talk to friends and family and neighbors. When I think about members of my own staff who are incredibly committed, in monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together. When I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet, feel constrained, even now that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is gone, because they're not able to commit themselves in a marriage.At a certain point, I've just concluded that for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.
Lots and lots of people -- including me -- noted that Obama's evolution on the issue happened to correspond with the changing public attitudes toward gay marriage. In fact, if you look at Gallup's long term trend line on attitudes toward same sex marriage, majority support in the country comes right around the time that Obama fully "evolved" on it.
Now, it's certainly possible that Obama's evolution on gay marriage just happened to mirror the broader trend -- in the midst of his reelection race. But, as you know I know, coincidences like that almost never occur in politics. Plus, Obama adviser David Axelrod wrote in his book that, as far back as the 2008 campaign, Obama supported same-sex marriage but didn't say so publicly.
"Barack Obama misled Americans for his own political benefit when he claimed in the 2008 election to oppose same sex marriage for religious reasons, his former political strategist David Axelrod writes in a new book, Believer: My Forty Years in Politics, " wrote Time's Zeke Miller in a piece last month. "'I’m just not very good at bulls****ing,' Obama told Axelrod, after an event where he stated his opposition to same-sex marriage, according to the book."
All of the above is not to say that the White House isn't perfectly within its rights to condemn the actions taken by legislatures in Indiana and Arkansas. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence's (R) attempt on Tuesday to get out from under the political avalanche falling all around him and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson's (R) unwillingness to go anywhere near it today says all you need to know about the political dangers present here for Republicans.
But the stridency with which Earnest condemned the idea of a debate of an active debate between religion and politics seemed a bit of overkill. After all, President Obama has opposed gay marriage for longer than he's supported it in the, to borrow Earnest's words, "21st century in the United States of America."