TOPICS > Politics

Why the tide is turning in support of same-sex marriage

June 19, 2014 at 6:35 PM EDT
An opposition rally against same-sex marriage in Washington came on the heels of news that President Obama will sign an executive action banning federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. Judy Woodruff discusses the fight over gay rights and the shifting tide of public opinion with Edward-Isaac Dovere of POLITICO and David Crary of the The Associated Press.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: A coalition of groups opposing same-sex marriage rallied in Washington today outside the U.S. Capitol, marching to the Supreme Court in support of marriage between one man and one woman.

This comes just days after the Obama administration announced its intent to ban federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and as polls show the tide of public opinion changing rapidly.

To discuss how the fight over gay rights is playing out both here in Washington and across the country, we are joined by Edward-Isaac Dovere. He’s senior White House reporter for Politico. And David Crary, who covers national social issues for the Associated Press.

And welcome to you both.

EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE, Politico: Good to be here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Isaac Dovere, let me start with you.

This executive action, the order the White House issued the other day affecting federal contractors, what is it and who’s affected by it?

EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE: Well, the White House actually has just announced that the president will sign this executive order. They haven’t announced what’s in it exactly yet, but it will ban discrimination against LGBT people who are working for government contractors.

There are questions about some of the minutia that will be in it, especially what kind of religious exemption might be in there, but it does seem like it is going forward and the president will sign it soon.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, David Crary, what’s your understanding of why the administration is doing this now?

DAVID CRARY, The Associated Press: Well, when President Obama took office, the gay rights movement had a pretty long wish list of things that they hoped that this liberal president would do.

And he’s checked off all the other items on this list, gays in the military serving openly, several other things in support for gay marriage. This was the last big item on the list, and I think there’s a sense of relief and delight by gay activists and probably a sense of relief at the White House that they finally finished this list and can now sort of celebrate together.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that how you see it, Isaac Dovere?

EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE: This was a promise that the president made when he was running in 2008. He didn’t do anything on it during his first term. He was doing a lot of other things that gay advocates were very happy about.

But in the spring of 2012, when he was preparing for reelection, his advisers told guy activists that they shouldn’t expect this to happen, that it wasn’t going to happen until after the election. This was definitely the last big thing. Some gay activists put it to me as the third leg of a stool, with repealing don’t ask, don’t tell and coming out in favor of gay marriage.

There are lots of other things that the administration has to be touting when it comes to their record on gay rights, but those are the three big items.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, meanwhile, David Crary, what’s happened in terms of public attitudes about same-sex marriage — and I think we have some graphics here to show our viewers — is really kind of remarkable. Just in the last five years, you have seen a complete shift in the percentage of Americans who oppose same-sex marriage and those who support it.

DAVID CRARY: That’s right, and it’s across a lot of different demographic sectors, which is interesting.

Young people are tilting hugely. A lot of Republicans, they are showing a shift there, older people. So it’s not just liberals, it’s not Democrats. It’s across-the-board shift, and a contrast here with the polls on the abortion issue, for example, another hot-button issue. Those haven’t budged in 20 years, if you look at the Gallup poll. It’s that same 50/50 split on abortion.

With the gay rights, the change is very dramatic. And it seems that even the hard-core opponents of same-sex marriage see that this is going on. They don’t really deny that trend.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, David Crary, what makes it fascinating is, we are seeing playing out across the country, as we mentioned, in state after state.

There are so many states that have banned same-sex marriage, but courts — the courts are putting a stop to it. Let’s look at — now, this is a graphic showing the states in orange, same-sex marriage not allowed. In green states, it is allowed.

But, as I was starting to say, David Crary, the courts have stepped in to intervene.

DAVID CRARY: They have been more than a dozen cases since last December all striking down either state bans in their entirety or part of the state ban.

It’s been a winning streak on one side, a losing streak on the other, with no exceptions. And it’s pretty striking. The next step will be to go to the level of U.S. circuit courts. They will be hearing appeals of some of these decisions. Those are going to come down probably this summer, maybe in Denver. They will rule on the status of Utah’s and Oklahoma’s gay marriage bans. There will be a hearing in Cincinnati of four different state cases, one single hearing.

So it’s going to be an interesting summer as all these litigated case move one step higher up on the federal court system.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And Isaac Dovere, for the Obama administration, they really can’t be involved in those cases, but they’re obviously watching with interest.

EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE: Watch with interest and with support.

At this point, just in the last week, the last state that didn’t have a court challenge to a gay marriage ban now has one. That was North Dakota. This is something that the administration is in favor of, and they have been doing what they can to interpret the legal rulings that have come down in favor of gay marriage as broadly as possible, specifically the Windsor decision that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act last spring.

They have tried in every way that they can to figure out how to apply as many rights to gay couples under federal marriage statutes as possible.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Isaac Dovere, staying with you, what are the politics of this? We are in an off-year, a congressional election year. The administration would like to energize the Democratic base, the liberal base.

How much does this, what’s happening, what we have been talking about, play into that?

EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE: Well, this is definitely part of it. When the president talks about what Democrats need to do for the midterms, he every time, at every fund-raiser says Democrats have a tendency to fall asleep or not pay attention in midterms.

He wants to make sure as few people as possible, specifically the base, buy into the narrative that the president is done with any big things. This is about making people believe that the president is still doing things, making the gay community believe that, and also to progressives in a wider way who we have seen poll after poll views the gay marriage, gay rights issue as a way of connecting with the president’s progressive values.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, David Crary, in the LGBT community, how do they read what the administration is doing?

DAVID CRARY: Well, I think they’re very pleased with what the administration is going.

I also think they’re very pleased at what they see happening in the Republican Party in terms of the Republican officeholders beginning to shy away from this battle. You see Republican governors in gay marriage states kind of accepting the fait accompli, Chris Christie in New Jersey, Governor Corbett in Pennsylvania, who decided not to appeal when a judge struck down their law against gay marriage.

That’s replicating itself. I think, at the march today in Washington, there was one Republican member of Congress who appeared. Four or five, 10 years ago, there would have been more. So I think LGBT activists are cautiously pleased that Democrats see this as a winning issue, gay marriage, and Republicans no longer seem to want to go to the mat to fight about it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Fascinating changes.

David Crary, Edward-Isaac Dovere, we thank you both.

EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE: Thank you.

DAVID CRARY: Thank you.