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Same-Sex Supreme Court Case Raises Political Issues


The Supreme Court's gay marriage decision of course will have powerful political implications, as well as legal ones. Here to talk about that is Cokie Roberts, who joins us most Mondays to discuss politics. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: Nina has just demonstrated how even the current justices have changed their tone about the issue of gay marriage, if not their votes. What does that indicate about the politics of this issue?

ROBERTS: They understand the public opinion has changed. But not just changed, Renee; it has changed dramatically. No one who's ever done polling has ever seen anything like the change on this issue. In an ABC poll last week, 61 percent said that they support gay marriage. That's up from 36 percent just nine years ago.

And compare that with what Nina was just talking, that Loving case on mixed racial marriages, it took almost 25 years to make the same degree of change, and it didn't reach majority support for mixed-race marriage until almost 30 years after the Supreme Court struck down the ban on mixed-race marriage. So this is quite dramatic.

And I suspect pretty much every household in America has been going through these discussions. In 1983, 24 percent said that they knew someone who was gay or lesbian. That number is now 75 percent. So it makes it very interesting for the Republican presidential contenders to try to figure out what to do about this question.

MONTAGNE: Well, one of those possible contenders last week, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, wrote an op-ed in The New York Times against the gay marriage. Clearly he thinks this will make him stand out in the primaries, but what does that do for him later?

ROBERTS: Well, they all say they're - all the Republican contenders say they are against gay marriage. And Bobby Jindal was obviously trying to put down a marker. I don't think it works very well for him when the state of Louisiana, my home state and the state where he's governor, is in such bad fiscal troubles.

But, look, the Republicans can't be in a position of turning off young people on gay issues. Fifty-two percent of Republicans - Republicans under the age of 50 support gay marriage and 60 percent of evangelicals under the age of 30. So they're finding themselves in a real bind on this issue.

Now, there's a counter argument from anti-gay marriage proponents saying it's not a question of are you for or against gay people. They say it's just - this kind of contentious issue should not be decided by the Supreme Court. It should be decided by the voters, and they are citing over and over again the abortion decision - Roe v. Wade - saying that the court took that highly contentious moral issue of abortion out of the hands of voters by declaring it a constitutional issue and left it as the fight that we have seen it for decades to come after that. And they say that that decision should serve as a cautionary tale to the court.

MONTAGNE: Well, you could say there are cautionary tales on all sides of major Supreme Court decisions, and you've just written a book about the Civil War where the Dred Scott decision played such a big role.

ROBERTS: And that was a very interesting case because President Buchanan thought that if the court decided the question of slavery, it would take it out of the political realm and that the forces threatening to tear the country apart would be silenced. And the president took the highly unusual step of lobbying the court on the issue. But the truth is - of course we don't have polling from the 1850s - but the truth is is that the public opinion was of course was so contrary to what the court decided in denying Dred Scott his freedom and the scope of that decision that it led to Civil War. And now the court has to be cognizant. Obviously I'm not saying that this will lead to Civil War, but it does have to be cognizant of what the majority of the public is saying. And the greater danger for the credibility could be going against gay marriage in this instance.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, thanks very much. That's Cokie Roberts on NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cokie Roberts was one of the 'Founding Mothers' of NPR who helped make that network one of the premier sources of news and information in this country. She served as a congressional correspondent at NPR for more than 10 years and later appeared as a commentator on Morning Edition. In addition to her work for NPR, Roberts was a political commentator for ABC News, providing analysis for all network news programming.