Obama treads water on same-sex marriage

President Barack Obama makes an opening statement during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, June 29, 2011. AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

President Barack Obama makes an opening statement during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, June 29, 2011.
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Asked if marriage is a civil right at his press conference Wednesday, President Obama espoused his support for gay, lesbian and transgendered Americans -- but again declined to express support for same-sex marriage.

In his first solo press conference since March, the president said New York's passage last week of a law making same-sex marriage legal was "a good thing." But he cast that perspective in the context of the value of "having a debate, talking through these issues."

When asked explicitly if he personally supports same-sex marriage, the president declined to answer.

"I'm not gonna make news on that today," he said before moving on to another topic.

Pressed further, Mr. Obama quipped, "I'll keep giving you the same answer until I give you a different one. And that won't be today."

Mr. Obama opposes same-sex marriage, but has said his views on the subject are "evolving." He backs civil unions for same-sex couples.

During the press conference, the president touted his administration's accomplishments on gay rights - but repeated his suggestion that same-sex marriage is an issue states must work out on their own.

"This administration, under my direction, has consistently said we cannot discriminate as a country against people on the basis of sexual orientation," Mr. Obama said. "We have done more in the two and a half years that I been in here than the previous 43 presidents to uphold that principle, whether it's ending 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' making sure that gay and lesbian partners can visit each other in hospitals, making sure that federal benefits can be provided to same-sex couples, across the board - hate crimes - we have made sure that that is a central principle of this administration because I think it's a central principle of America."

The New York state debate over legislation of gay marriage, Mr. Obama said, is "exactly how things should work."

"It was contentious, it was emotional, but ultimately they made a decision to recognize civil marriages," he said, adding: "I think it is important for us to work through these issues - because each community is going to be different and each state's going to be different - to work through them."

The president contended that his administration is doing everything in its power to prevent discrimination while that debate continues.

"We've...filed briefs before the Supreme Court that say we think that any discrimination against gays, lesbians, transgenders is subject to heightened scrutiny," he said. "We've said that DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, is unconstitutional."

"And so I think the combination of what states are doing, what the courts are doing, the actions that we're taking administratively all are how the process should work," he said.

Ultimately, Mr. Obama added, the principle of equality will "win out."

"It's not going to be perfectly smooth," Mr. Obama said. "And it turns out that the president - I discovered since I've been in this office - can't dictate precisely how this process moves. But I think we're moving in a direction of greater equality, and I think that's a good thing."

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