President Barack Obama may be poised to show new support for gay marriage as a deadline approaches for his administration to take a stand in the U.S. Supreme Court on a California ban on same-sex nuptials.

A month after urging legal equality for gays in his inauguration speech, Obama could use the high court case as an occasion to call for same-sex marriage rights nationwide.

An administration filing last week, in a separate Supreme Court case involving a law that limits federal benefits for same-sex couples, may have foreshadowed a call to overturn California’s ban under Proposition 8. In arguing against the federal law, Obama’s lawyers said gays have endured a history of discrimination and now should be afforded special protection under the Constitution, much like racial minorities and women.

“The undisputed 20th-century discrimination has lasted long enough,” wrote U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, the president’s top Supreme Court lawyer.

Verrilli said laws barring same-sex marriage were evidence of discrimination. He pointed to the passage of Proposition 8 as an indication that gays lack the political clout to ensure equality on their own.

Proposition 8, approved by voters in 2008, reversed a decision by the California Supreme Court that the state constitution guaranteed the right to gay marriage. A federal appeals court struck down the ballot initiative last year. A court stay has kept gay marriage banned during the appeals.

The administration must file any brief opposing the California ban by Feb. 28. It also might take a more incremental approach, urging the court to reinstate same-sex marriage in California without affecting the 40 other states that prohibit the practice. And Obama has the option not to get involved in the case at all. Gay-rights activists say they’re optimistic the president will take their side, at least to some degree.

Continue reading →