AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Wednesday, May 9, 2012 | 8:15 p.m.
President Barack Obama responded to growing pressure in the Democratic Party to take a stand on gay marriage Wednesday, stating clearly in an interview with ABC that “I think same sex couples should be able to get married.”
Sen. Harry Reid didn’t exactly follow suit.
“My personal belief is that marriage is between a man and a woman,” Reid said in a statement his office put out late Wednesday. “But in a civil society, I believe that people should be able to marry whomever they want, and it’s no business of mine if two men or two women want to get married. The idea that allowing two loving, committed people to marry would have any impact on my life, or on my family’s life, always struck me as absurd.”
It’s a position very similar to that which Obama espoused prior to Wednesday. But while the president’s opinion on gay marriage went through a self-described “evolving,” Reid’s pretty much stayed the same.
Reid went on to say that his children and grandchildren “take marriage equality as a given” and that he had “no doubt that their view will carry the future.”
But the future is not now for the majority leader, who said he thought the matter is best left to the states.
In recent years, Reid has built a bursting portfolio of support for gay rights issues.
He refused to support efforts to pass a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman in 2004 and 2006, supported efforts to make workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation illegal and classify attacks on gays as a hate crime, and pressed the Senate in 2010 toward an historic repeal of the military’s longstanding “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
But Reid’s nuanced opinion about gay marriage is significant because he holds many of the cards when it comes to the Defense of Marriage Act (or DOMA), the 1996 federal law that recognizes marriage as only between a man and a woman.
Only 14 Democratic senators, not including Reid, opposed that law in 1996. Now there are 32 Democratic senators, not including Reid, who have cosponsored legislation to repeal it.
Gay rights activists have long been angling for a repeal of DOMA, a law Republicans have championed since its passage, especially in the face of several court challenges seeking to overturn it.
It’s unlikely a repeal of DOMA would make it past the full Senate, considering the Republican Party’s position on gay marriage and the need to get a filibuster-proof majority.
Right now, none of that really matters. While the president made his personal views on gay marriage clear Wednesday — in no small part because members of his cabinet and Vice President Joe Biden announced their support for gay marriage in the past few days — he stopped there.
Obama did not address states considering ballot measures to limit the definition of marriage. He issued no pleas to judges considering gay marriage rights — such as the one in federal court in Nevada. And most importantly, while he said in the past he supports the idea of a DOMA repeal, he made no calls for an immediate change in the federal policy.
Without a specific call to action on the table, Reid’s and Obama’s statements are just what they are: expressions of personal opinions.