By David G. Savage
11:14 AM PST, January 21, 2013
WASHINGTON -- President Obama must decide next month whether to endorse gay marriage as an equal right under the Constitution; in his inaugural address, he sounded as though he had made up his mind.
“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well,” Obama said.
During the last year, the president has said he personally supports gay marriage but that the issue needs to be decided on a state by state basis. Currently, nine states authorize same-sex marriages, 41 do not.
The Supreme Court has agreed to hear two gay marriage cases in late March, and both pose questions about equal rights for same-sex couples.
In one case from New York, the justices will decide whether legally married gay couples are entitled to equal benefits under federal law. Obama’s lawyers have joined with gay rights advocates in arguing that the court should strike down part of the Defense of Marriage Act that forbids federal authorities from recognizing a same-sex marriage.
In the second case concerning California’s Proposition 8, the court will consider the much broader question of whether gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry. So far, the administration has not weighed in on the question. And because it is a state case, the Justice Department could stand aside and not take part.
The administration has until late February to decide whether to file a brief in the California case and take a stand on whether the Constitution gives gays and lesbians an equal right to marry. Lawyers close to the administration say the final decision will be made at the White House, not the Justice Department.
But all nine justices were seated near to President Obama as he spoke Monday, and he endorsed the principle that “our gay brothers and sisters” are entitled to be “treated like anyone else under the law.”
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