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Obama: could not avoid weighing in on gay marriage court case

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Business Council in Washington February 27, 2013. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Business Council in Washington February 27, 2013. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Friday he felt compelled to weigh in on a California same-sex marriage case before the Supreme Court because of his and society's "profoundly positive" evolution on gay rights.

Obama's administration on Thursday filed a brief urging the court to allow same-sex marriages to resume in California, which banned them in a 2008 voter-approved measure known as Proposition 8.

Obama did not have to submit an opinion on the case and the court's nine justices are under no obligation to give it weight. But the president said he wanted his position to be known.

"Last year upon a long period of reflection, I concluded that we cannot discriminate against same-sex couples when it comes to marriage," Obama told reporters, referring to his announcement during the 2012 election campaign.

"I think that the same evolution that I've gone through is an evolution that the country as a whole has gone through. And I think it is a profoundly positive thing," he said.

Obama has made gay rights a priority during his time in office, helping end the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that prevented gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.

His position on marriage took his support for gay rights to a new level, however, and activists were encouraged when he noted the issue prominently in his second Inaugural Address, hoping that was a sign of more action to come.

The Obama administration is involved in another gay rights case before the court, challenging the constitutionality of a central part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage under federal law as being between a man and a woman.

Obama said he thought his administration could not avoid weighing in on the California case as well. He said the measure did not provide any rationale for discriminating against same-sex couples.

"I felt it was important for us to articulate what I believe and what this administration stands for," he said.

"If the Supreme Court asks me or my attorney general or solicitor general, do we think that meets constitutional muster, I felt it was important for us to answer that question honestly. And the answer is no."

(Editing by Xavier Briand)

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