President Obama’s support to overturn gay marriage ban rings true in San Francisco 

Obama takes an official position on gay marriage - GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO
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  • Obama takes an official position on gay marriage

The Obama Administration threw its political and legal weight behind the effort to overturn California’s gay marriage ban on Thursday with a legal brief expected to be filed at the Supreme Court.

The brief, filed by Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, Jr, will urge the nine Supreme Court justices to overturn Proposition 8, the 2008 voter-enacted law that banned same-sex couples from acquiring marriage licenses.

Lower courts, beginning with federal court in San Francisco, have already declared the law invalid; the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in that case in March.

There are several gay marriage cases currently percolating at the Supreme Court level. One, U.S. vs. Windsor, seeks repeal of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. Obama’s brief applies only to Hollingsworth v. Perry, the challenge to California’s Proposition 8.

The brief represents a significant milestone for the nation’s gay community and completes a turnaround for the president, who while campaigning in 2008 said he is “not in favor of gay marriage.”

The exact wording of the brief was not immediately available Thursday, but same-sex marriage proponents hailed the apparent fulfillment of a presidential promise made on Inauguration Day last month.

When the president compared the same-sex marriage struggle to the women’s rights and civil rights movements, “all gay Americans were moved,” said Marriage Equality USA’s Stuart Tett, who with his husband John Lewis were plaintiffs in the successful challenge to an earlier state ban on same-sex marriage. “He said our journey is not complete until the LGBT community has full equality under the law -- and today the administration has delivered on this promise by putting before the highest court in the land the argument that all loving couples should be able to marry."

A spokeswoman for Protect Marriage, the main proponents of the gay marriage ban, did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.

Thirty states currently ban same-sex couples from acquiring marriage licenses and many ban civil unions.

While the White House is not a party to the legal case in question, presidents have in the past become legally involved in civil rights issues, noted City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

President Harry Truman’s administration filed briefs supporting the end of segregated schools in 1952 in Brown v. Board of Education.

“We are delighted to have the legal and moral weight of the federal government on our side in this struggle,” said Herrera, whose office in 2004 defended then San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom from lawsuits stemming from his decision to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

“We hope the U.S. Supreme Court will similarly recognize that Prop 8 was inexplicable by any rationale other than prejudice,” he added in a statement. “It is unconstitutional, and must be struck down."

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Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has worked as a reporter in San Francisco since 2008, with an emphasis on city governance and politics, The City’s neighborhoods, race, poverty and the drug war.
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