Pete Williams at NBC News is reporting that President Obama will file an amicus brief today in the Proposition 8 (Prop 8) gay marriage case being heard by the Supreme Court at the end of March.
The administration had been surprisingly quiet and evasive on the issue up until this moment. Further down in this story I look at the ramifications of that apparent indecision.
But Williams says the brief will be filed later today. As we noted yesterday, the deadline for the brief is today.
This is somewhat odd as only moments ago, White House press secretary Jay Carney gave evasive answers about the Prop 8 brief to both the Associated Press and the Chicago Tribune, according to Chris Johnson of the Washington Blade, and confirmed by the video of today’s White House briefing.
White House evasive less than hour before Prop 8 brief announced
Christi Parsons from the Chicago Tribune/LA Times asking a question of White House press secretary Jay Carney today:
CHICAGO TRIB: I know you want to leave questions about the Prop 8 brief to the DOJ, but as the President’s spokesman I wonder if you can just tell us a little bit about his deliberation on this…
WHITE HOUSE: I really don’t have anything for you on it, the President obviously has expressed an opinion in the past on this issue as a matter of policy, but when it comes to a legal and constitutional issues around it, that’s a jurisdiction that resides with the Department of Justice, so I dont have anything for you on it.
CHICAGO TRIB: Whether to weigh in wouldn’t be a policy decision made by the President?
WHITE HOUSE: I just dont have anything more for you on it, I would refer you to the DOJ.
Earlier this week, pressure grew on the administration to file a brief as 60+ companies and over 100 current and mostly-former Republican officials, many quite prominent, filed their own briefs pro- gay marriage briefs in the case.
Downside to waiting till last minute to announce Prop 8 brief
There’s a downside to having waited until the last minute to both file the brief, and to let it be known publicly that a brief would be filed. One of the first responses I got on Twitter to the news that the administration would be filing a brief was this:
— julia (@snapdragon830) February 28, 2013
It looks like the administration was vacillating on whether to file a brief up until the last moment. And while giving some due thought is always wise, when you’re evasive about the issue for two months, and then break the news three hours before the filing deadline, it looks “weird.”
Why do looks matter when the decision, in the end, is the right one? Because in politics, it’s important to get credit for good deeds. That credit motivates even more good deeds. And far too often, the administration gives the appearance of having been dragged to a certain policy position, rather than embracing it whole-heartedly on its own, early and often. Thus, they don’t get full credit, which makes them, potentially, less motivated to help us in the future. There’s also an opportunity cost for the Democratic party, as they miss out on the full credit, full thankfulness, they could be receiving from the gay community.
Ambivalence is what many gay people perceived during the administration’s early inaction on gay rights during the first two years of the President’s first term, and especially about how the administration handled the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The initial plan was to let DADT repeal be dealt with by Congress in 2011, which would have been a disaster since many of us worried, correctly in retrospect, that Democrats were in danger of losing one or both houses of Congress in the November 2010 elections. Many feel that it was pressure from outside activists that finally forced the administration’s hand, and got DADT repeal done before the new Congress came to town in early 2011.
The same thing happened with the administration’s infamous brief defending the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) brief in June of 2009. We argued early on that it was not legally necessary for the administration to defend DOMA in court, and we were told, repeatedly, by the Department of Justice, and the administration overall, that we were wrong.
We now know that they were wrong. But it took them nearly two years to come around. And during that time, the administration lost a good deal of goodwill, and the damage was unnecessary.
You get far more credit for doing the right thing early, than late
Don’t get me wrong. This is great news that the administration will be filing a brief in the Prop 8 case. But politics is about the long-term, not just the short-term. And I don’t like to see good deeds done badly, and opportunities missed. The Obama administration is often its own worst enemy in how it handles gay civil rights policy. The right thing often happens at the wrong time, and in the wrong manner. I just think they could handle things so much better, and get more credit for the good that they do, if they faced up to this fact.