Obama: "Prepared to Implement"

BY Kerry Eleveld

December 22 2010 3:35 AM ET

BARACK OBAMA AND KERRY ELEVELD X550

Did you anticipate that that survey would turn out like that?
I
was confident about it because I talked to enough troops and I had a
sense of the innate fairness of the American people when it comes to an
issue like should people be able to serve their military and potentially
die for their country, that military attitudes were not going to be
wildly divergent from public attitudes. And then to see how that
combination of Gates, Mullen, [and] the study [could] break the logjam and
essentially provide the space for people of goodwill of both parties to
do the right thing was just really gratifying.

And things don't
always go according to your plans, and so when they do—especially in
this town — it’s pleasantly surprising. And when I think about the troops
who I know are impacted by this — I visited Afghanistan just a few weeks
ago. And while I was doing the rope line, a young woman in uniform was
shaking my hand — it was a big crowd — she hugged me and she whispered in my
ear, “Get ‘don't ask, don't tell’ done.” And I said to her, “I promise
you I will.” And for me to be able to deliver that Christmas present to
her and so many others is incredibly gratifying.

So I would say,
look ... we’ve done a lot this year and we did a lot the previous year,
and so obviously saving the economy from depression, getting health care
passed, and getting financial regulatory reform are all things that I’m
very proud of. But this is one of those issues where you know
individual people directly that are going to be impacted and you know it
helps shift attitudes in a direction of greater fairness over the long
term. I think when people look back 20 years from now they’ll say this
was one of the more important things that I’ve gotten done since I’ve
been president.

Well, no doubt I think a pivotal moment.
And I know that so many people who voted for you, LGBT folks who voted
for you, did so because they believe that you were a fierce supporter of
equality. Given what you’ve just said, Mr. President, do you think it’s
time that gays and lesbians should be entitled to full marriage rights?

Well, I spoke about this recently with some bloggers who were here ...

Mr. Joe Sudbay.
Yes,
and Joe asked me the same question. And since I've been making a lot of
news over the last several weeks, I’m not going to make more news
today. The sentiment I expressed then is still where I am — which is, like
a lot of people, I’m wrestling with this. My attitudes are evolving on
this. I have always firmly believed in having a robust civil union that
provides the rights and benefits under the law that marriage does. I’ve
wrestled with the fact that marriage traditionally has had a different
connotation. But I also have a lot of very close friends who are married
gay or lesbian couples.

And squaring that circle is something
that I have not done yet, but I’m continually asking myself this
question, and I do think that — I will make this observation, that I notice
there is a big generational difference. When you talk to people who are
in their 20s, they don’t understand what the holdup is on this,
regardless of their own sexual orientation. And obviously when you talk
to older folks, then there’s greater resistance.

And so this is
an issue that I’m still wrestling with, others are still wrestling with.
What I know is that at minimum, a baseline is that there has to be a
strong, robust civil union available to all gay and lesbian couples.

Can
you imagine a time when you would get there? I mean, you say
“evolving,” and that sort of assumes that you get somewhere. Can you
imagine a time of getting there?

I'm going to stick with my answer.

OK.
So, looking forward, I know that there are — many of your LGBT supporters
would have wished for more in the first two years. And it’s never
enough, of course ...

I’ve found that.

And especially like passing employment nondiscrimination ...
And,
in fairness, by the way, that is true of every single group of
supporters that I have. I mean, there’s not a single constituency that
doesn’t think we could be doing more.

And true of every civil rights movement.

Yes.

I
know one of the things that people were interested [in] — especially gay
and transgender Americans — was passing employment nondiscrimination
protections. But looking forward, it looks like most legislation,
pro-LGBT, will be stalled in Congress.
So as you look
to much of the action that’s going to be happening in the courts — do you
think that gays and lesbians and transgender people should have a
heightened scrutiny status?

Before I answer that
question, let me just say there are still a lot of things we can do
administratively even if we don’t pass things legislatively. So my
ability to make sure that the federal government is an employer that
treats gays and lesbians fairly, that’s something I can do, and sets a
model for folks across the board. Our implementation ...

But DOMA, of course, is one of the ...
I
understand. Our changes on hospital visitation is something that didn’t
require legislation but has concrete impacts, making a difference in
people’s lives as we speak.

So I want to continue to look for
ways administratively, even if we’re not able to get something through
the House of Representatives or the Senate, that advances the causes of
equality.
































With respect to the courts and heightened scrutiny, I
think that if you look at where Justice [Anthony] Kennedy is moving, the kind of
rational review that he applied in the Texas case was one that feels
right to me and says that, even if he was calling it “rational review,”
is one that recognizes that certain groups may be vulnerable to
stereotypes, certain groups may be subject to discrimination, and that
the court’s job historically is to pay attention to that.

And so
I’m not going to engage in — I’m not going to put my constitutional lawyer
hat on now, partly because I’m president and I’ve got to be careful
about my role in the three branches of government here. But what I will
say is that I think that the courts historically have played a critical
role in making sure that all Americans are protected under the law. And
there are certain groups that are in need of that protection; the court
needs to make sure it’s there for them.

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