In a candid interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, President Obama said he couldn't imagine a scenario where a state's ban on marriage equality was constitutional.
But the president also clarified that he believes the issue of marriage equality is one of states' rights.
"Well, I've gotta tell you that, in terms of practical politics, what I've seen is a healthy debate taking place state by state, and not every state has the exact same attitudes and cultural mores," Obama said in response to Stephanopoulos's question about if the U.S. Constitution guarantees the freedom to marry. "And I -- you know, my thinking was that this is traditionally a state issue and that it will work itself out.
"On the other hand, what I also believe is that the core principle that people don't get discriminated against. That's one of our core values. And it's in our constitution. It's in the, you know, Fourteenth Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause. And from a legal perspective, the -- the -- the bottom line is, is that gays have historically been discriminated against, and I do think that courts have to apply what's called heightened scrutiny, where they take a careful look. If there's any reason for gays and lesbians to be treated differently, boy, the government better have a really good [reason to do so]."
Stephanopoulos then asked the president if he could imagine a situation where a state-level ban on marriage equality would pass the constitutional heightened scrutiny that Obama believes the LGBT community deserves.
"Well, I can't, personally. I cannot," said the president. "That's part of the conc- reason I said, ultimately, I think that, you know, same-sex couples should be able to marry. That's my personal position. And, frankly, that's the position that's reflected in the briefs that we filed in the Supreme Court.
"My hope is that the court looks at the evidence and -- and in the California case, for example, the only reason presented for treating gays and lesbians differently was, 'Well, they're gay and lesbian.' There wasn't a real rationale beyond that. In fact. you know, all the other rights and -- and responsibilities of a civil union were identical to marriage.
"It's just you couldn't call it marriage. Well, at that point, what you're really sayin' is, 'We're just gonna treat these folks differently because of who they are.' And I do not think that's -- that's who are as Americans. And - and frankly, I think, American attitudes have evolved, just like mine have - pretty substantially and fairly quickly, and I think that's a good thing."
The interview aired this morning on Good Morning America and will air again on Nightline just after midnighttonight, at 12:35 a.m. Thursday. Read the full transcript of the interview here.