A positive side effect of Barack Obama’s shift on marriage equality, aside from revealing Andrew Sullivan’s daddy fixation, is that it has forced a good bit of the Democratic establishment to come off the fence and to support equality themselves. Since the announcement last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn have all endorsed marriage equality.
But perhaps the most interesting angle came from South Carolina Representative James Clyburn, also a member of the Democratic leadership in the House. Clyburn, who had managed to get to May 2012 without ever expressing an opinion on marriage equality, not only endorsed it, but leapfrogged Obama by rejecting the President’s state’s rights approach to the issue.
“I, like the president, have evolved to a point of marriage equality. I have not always been there … I have grown to the point where I believe we have evolved to marriage equality,” said Clyburn on MSNBC’s “Daily Rundown.”
“However, I depart from the president on the state-by-state approach. If you consider this to be a civil right, and I do, I don’t think civil rights ought to be left up to a state-by-state approach,” he added […]
“State regulation is one thing, but the granting of states the right … I don’t think that’s a good policy and I have a problem with that,” he added.
It’s notable for a prominent African-American politician to point out the flaw in the President’s logic on marriage equality. Obama has basically said that he takes the personal position that same-sex couples should be able to get married, but that states have the ability to decide this on their own. Outside of his announcement, Obama has typically opposed state-based marriage equality bans, like the one in North Carolina last week. And at the federal level, his Administration has stopped defending DOMA, which if overturned would give federal recognition – and rights and benefits – to legally wed same-sex couples.
But the state’s rights approach to this has ugly similarities to the civil rights battles of the past. As Digby pointed out at the time, the President’s position is “not all that different from someone saying in 1963 that it’s their personal belief that it should be legal for people of different races to marry but they support the concept of states deciding the issue on their own. ‘States’ rights’ has always been used as a shield for bigotry.” Perhaps someone like Clyburn, a former leader in the Civil Rights Movement, is most attuned to this.
Perhaps the Administration feels that, if they rejected a state’s rights approach, they would be compelled to forward a Constitutional amendment on marriage equality, something they felt they couldn’t touch. But the overtones of the solution they came up with are unpalatable to those who witnessed first-hand how state’s rights could be used to keep legal discrimination in place in swaths of the country.