President Barack Obama did not directly address a question during Wednesday’s news conference on whether marriage is a civil right, referring instead to his track record on LGBT issues and his support for states to decide the issue.
“Let me start by saying this administration under my direction has consistently said we cannot discriminate as a country on the basis of sexual orientation,” Obama said in answer to a question from Chuck Todd of NBC News. “And we have done more in the two and half years that I’ve been here than the previous 43 presidents to uphold that principle.”
The president enumerated LGBT accomplishments under his administration, including hate-crimes legislation, signing repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” (which remains in effect pending certification), and his decision to no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court challenges against the 1996 law. “And so we’ve said we cannot defend the federal government poking its nose" into what states decide, he said. DOMA, he reiterated, is unconstitutional, his Justice Department has concluded.
However, the president noted, “What I’ve seen happen over the last several years, and what happened in New York last week, was a good thing. What you saw was the people of New York having a debate, talking through these issues; it was contentious, it was emotional, but ultimately they made a decision to recognize civil marriages. And I think that’s exactly how things should work. And so I think it’s important for us to work through these issues, because each community is going to be different and each state is going to be different to work through them.”
In a follow-up from The Wall Street Journal, the president said on marriage equality, "I'm not going to make news on that today."