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'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Wednesday, May 9, 2012

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Guests: Krystal Ball, Jonathan Capehart, Richard Wolffe, Dorian Warren, Keith Boykin, Toure, Howard Fineman, Nia-Malika Henderson, Lenny Gerber, Pearl Berlin, Zach Wahls

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, HOST: She`s from Virginia and it`s going to be close
enough.

In the first 90 minutes after President Obama came out publicly in
favor of marriage equality, the Obama re-election campaign raised $1
million.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: Minutes ago, we learned President Obama --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At 3:00 this afternoon --

AL SHARPTON, MSNBC HOST: He now fully supports marriage for same-sex
couples.

WILLIAMS: The first president in American history --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We`ve talked about the president on gay
marriage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is the president waiting for?

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN: Just show your true colors.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Stop saying your position is evolving.

STEELE: Let the political chips fall where they may.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You should man up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s time for him to complete the journey.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And say this is what I believe.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My feelings about this
are constantly evolving. I struggle with this.

MATTHEWS: Today, the president told ABC News --

WILLIAMS: He supports same-sex marriage.

OBAMA: I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.

MATTHEWS: Gay couples should be able to marry.

OBAMA: Should be able to get married.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The vice president I think forced his hand.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Men marrying men,
women marrying women, I am absolutely comfortable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are huge political risks taking this
position.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thirty-two times since 1998, gay marriage come
up for a vote, 32 times, anti gay marriage advocates have won.

OBAMA: I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS: Mitt Romney does not.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Marriage is a relationship
between a man and woman.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I always believe
that marriage was between a man and a woman.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO HOST: Pink smoke coming from the White House
chimney.

ROMNEY: And I don`t favor civil union or gay marriage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Republicans make it an issue.

MATTHEWS: They`re going to pound this thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They`re going to go hard.

MATTHEWS: Karl Rove is going to gnaw on this bone until election
night.

OBAMA: I think same sex couples should be able to get married.

WILLIAMS: The first president in American history.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s historic news.

SHARPTON: Such a historic today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s historic news, and it was the right thing to
do.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O`DONNELL: The president of the United States today chose an
interview with ABC`s Robin Roberts to make news and to make history.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Over the course of several years, as I talked to friends and
family and neighbors, when I think about members of my own staff who are
incredibly committed, monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who
are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or
marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf, and yet feel
constrained -- even now that don`t ask, don`t tell is gone -- because they
are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I just
concluded that for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and
affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: White House officials are leaking a background story that
sounds like the stuff of fiction and just may be. As the story goes, the
president planned to announce his support for marriage equality sometime
before the Democratic National Convention in September, but then Vice
President Biden said this on "Meet the Press."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am absolutely
comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and
heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact
rights.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: The Biden comments made marriage equality the political
story of the week and according to the White House story, that put pressure
on the president to clarify his position today. The president said to no
one`s surprise, the first lady shares his support for marriage equality,
and he added the personal note, that this is an area where the kids can
help the parents see what`s right.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Malia and Sasha, it wouldn`t dawn on them that somehow their
friends` parents would be treated differently. It doesn`t make sense to
them, and, frankly, that`s the kind of thing that prompts a change of
perspective.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Joining me now is Krystal Ball, Democratic strategist and
MSNBBC contributor, Dorian Warren, assistant professor of political science
at Columbia University and fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, and Keith
Boykin, BET.com columnist and author of four books on race and sexual
orientation, and law school classmate of President Obama.

Thank you, all, for joining me tonight.

That last note about his children is -- it echoes with me, because my
daughter has grown up in Santa Monica where she has known really since she
could talk, children of same-sex couples and through their eyes, there is
nothing strange about this now, I don`t think that`s necessarily a common
parenting experience in this country. It depends on zip code and it made
perfect sense to me to hear the president use that as a way of explaining
his own evolution on this.

KRYSTAL BALL, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I totally agree, and I think it
makes since to a lot of Americans as well. I think about it from my own
perspective, for my daughter. She`s barely more than a toddler now. Who
knows who she`s going to love, what she`s going to be when she grows up. I
certainly want her to have all the rights and full equality under the law
that anyone else would enjoy.

And also, my mother, I`m from Virginia, my mother is a preschool
teacher. She has kids in their preschool who have same-sex mommies and
daddies. So, I think that resonates with a lot of Americans where they
understand his evolution, because frankly, they`re evolving in the same
way.

O`DONNELL: Keith, place this statement today in its context on in
our history.

KEITH BOYKIN, BET.COM: This the first time any president has come
out in favor of same-sex marriage. I remember being in the White House
with Bill Clinton, in the Oval Office in 1993, in the first year, and he
was asked what he thought he would be remembered for in history. And he
said he thought he would be remembered for lifting the ban on gays in the
military and health care reform. Neither one of those things he
accomplished. Barack Obama accomplished both of those. And then comes out
in favor of same sex marriage.

This is a sea change on where America is on these issues. And it`s a
big deal, as Biden would say.

O`DONNELL: And, Dorian, in that Clinton White House in 1996, the
president signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which, by the way, was
relatively noncontroversial, it passed the senate with 85 votes, only 14
Democrats voting against it, the president was basically -- if he hadn`t
signed it, they could have overwritten his veto. So, that`s what the last
Democratic president did in this area.

DORIAN WARREN, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: That`s right. And I think we`re
a long way from the mid `90s, when you now have the mainstream position is
to support marriage equality. That`s a huge, huge leap in a short amount
of time.

And I think the president should be applauded. I mean, his evolution
of personal beliefs is very important. But there is still a lot of work to
be done of translating personal beliefs in the public policy because this
is now 30 states, ban gay marriage, the president said it`s a states rights
issue.

So, there is still room to push him. And I think all credit should
be given to the LGBT activist community, because they were ferocious and
kept the pressure on to push him.

O`DONNELL: I want to read something that Richard Socarides was
posted today, a friend of mine for a long time, who also worked for
President Obama on these issues. He said, so, while this is an important
moment in civil rights history. It`s also an important moment in political
history in which the lesson for the gay community and perhaps for anyone
advocating for change is that words are important, and to your point, but
we have to insist on action from our friends.

BALL: That`s absolutely right. And, in fact, the president said
repeatedly, I want you all to push me on this. I want you to push me.
And, look, I`m someone who has been really defending the president because
his record of accomplishment in office is quite incredible on what he`s
already done to push for the goal of equality.

But absolutely I think raising those voices and putting on that
pressure was important and to that point, going forward, we`ll all be
pondering, what`s the political consequence? Well, the political
consequence is entirely dependent on how those of us who support equality
behave. Do we go out and work and make this issue a political winner? Or
sit back and let the other side take the initiative and use this issue as a
wedge?

I think we have it in our control to go out and work and make this a
winner in November.

BOYKIN: This is the big problem with the Democratic Party over the
areas. I think we have failed, those of us who are Democrats, to
articulate what our vision is and stand by it.

Whenever we get into controversy, Democrats back off and pretend like
we don`t believe what we believe. It`s finally time to see a Democrat like
President Obama to say, yes, I believe this, I`m willing to stand up and
defend it. That`s how these views start to become part of the mainstream.

Republicans have been doing this for decades, it`s about time
Democrats start catching up with that.

O`DONNELL: Now, there`s a lot of talk about the timing of this
thing, and people in the White House saying, look, Biden surprised us, I
have known Joe Biden a long time, I have a feeling for when he`s speaking
off the cuff and when he`s unauthorized. I also have a strong feeling for
when he`s speaking authorized.

The way he spoke on "Meet the Press" to me was very deliberate. I
don`t think anyone in the White House is surprised. You then had another
cabinet member came on the next morning on this network, and they clear all
their comment with the White House before they go on.

And then the president in this perfectly -- the flow of the story
this week, creates the climax, and then the story is, oh, yes, he was going
to do it maybe like sometime in August. It doesn`t make any sense to me
that they would have done this in August if they were going to do it, and
endure months of complaint about not doing it. I`m just not buying this
was sort of took us by surprise this week.

WARREN: Even if it took them by surprise, they knew by Friday
evening what Vice President Biden had said, because he taped that interview
Friday.

O`DONNELL: Yes.

WARREN: So they had all weekend to figure out what their strategy
was. I think what`s really important, they knew the North Carolina votes
would question in favor of the ban on same-sex marriage and they knew
somebody would have to say something I don`t known the president was going
to come out before the election, but with North Carolina banning marriage
equality essentially and then the Democratic Party and the president
knowing that the convention is going to be held in North Carolina.

They already have labor leaders pissed off about having the
convention in a right to work state. They can`t have two core
constituencies really, really upset with them. So, I think this was
strategic to come out. It`s strategic to come out in favor today.

BOYKIN: You know, I wrote something today on BET.com. I wrote it
and it was posted at 2:59 p.m. saying President Obama supports same-sex
marriage, the first time I ever wrote that. But I said I believe it in my
heart. I can`t prove it, but I know that this is the case.

Three minutes later, the ABC interview came out and I had to go and
revise my article on BET.com. Now, he`s finally coming out and saying it.

I didn`t think he was going to come out and say it this soon. But
I`m glad he did.

I think what they`ve realized in the White House is that the
consequences aren`t going to be that dire. Fifty-seven percent of
independents support same-sex marriage. And there`s whole mythology that
black people are not going to support Barack Obama because of this issue?
That`s a dream, that`s a complete pipe dream

There`s no record, I`ve studied this issue for 20 years, there`s
never been a single black candidate, black elected official, lost office
for supporting same-sex marriage. And it certainly not going to happen to
the first African-American president of the United States. No way blacks
will abandon Obama on this issue.

O`DONNELL: You know, in ABC`s report, and I don`t mean to knock ABC
for this, because everybody does. But they showed the great interview, and
a man on the street and they go a black voter who says, I really don`t like
this, I really don`t like this, and then they cut. And I`m screaming at
the TV -- ask him who he would vote for?

BALL: That`s exactly right. Do we really believe that this is going
to be the issue that really anyone is going to vote on? Anyone who is
going to determine this election in the fall?

If African-Americans were voting on marriage equality, then they
wouldn`t already be backing so many Democrats. But I don`t want to lose
sight of the fact that this is a politically courageous decision, because
if you look at the polling in swing states, it`s still very tough.

O`DONNELL: It`s very narrow and negative.

BALL: And we just saw in North Carolina, I mean, this thing went
down in flames by 20 points. We shouldn`t undercut this is a bold move.
It is a show of leadership. It is courageous, it is unprecedented.

I think personally that we can use it, that it will generate a lot of
enthusiasm among young voters in particular who may have been a bit
apathetic. I think it reinvigorates them, but we should not forget this
was not really a politically expedient move. This is a tough sell still.

O`DONNELL: Dorian, a quick last word.

WARREN: I still think the president can put his pen behind his
words. He can sign an executive order banning discrimination against gay
and lesbians when it comes to federal contracting. He can support a
platform this August around marriage equality there are tangible things
besides saying he personally is in favor of marriage equality.

O`DONNELL: We have a lot more on this coming up. Thank you, Krystal
Ball, Dorian Warren, and Keith Boykin thank you all very much for joining
me tonight.

BALL: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Rush Limbaugh says President Obama`s statement is -- what
else? A war on marriage. The politics of marriage coming up with Toure,
Richard Wolffe, and Jonathan Capehart.

But one host at FOX News shocked his viewers by saying President
Obama is on the right side of history. Guess which FOX News host said
this? Send me your guesses quickly on Twitter, the answer will be in the
rewrite.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: Our own Howard Fineman in Romney campaign headquarters
today when President Obama made his announcement in support of marriage
equality. Howard will tell us what the Romney campaign`s response is.

And two North Carolina women who have been together 45 years will
share their reaction to the North Carolina North Carolina vote to ban
marriage equality and today`s announcement by the president. They will
share that, along with Zach Wahls, who will give us his reaction and both
of his mother`s reactions.

And the rewrite tonight, the FOX News host who says President Obama
is on the right side of history. That`s coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIMBAUGH: So now we got the president of the United States leading a
war on traditional marriage. Is it going to be like the war on stay-at-
home working mothers that you people have led? Is it going to be like the
war on the Catholic Church that you people have led?

And people like me who are minding their own business have to stand
up and defend these institutions and traditions from people like you, and
now, the president who is waging war on traditional America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: You know, people like Rush, who are minding their own
business.

Joining me now are: Toure, author of the book "Who is Afraid of Post
Blackness" and columnist for Time.com, Jonathan Capehart, "Washington Post"
opinion writer and MSNBC analyst, and Richard Wolffe, an MSNBC political
analyst.

Toure, I was following your tweets today as this unfolded. You were
-- to put it mildly -- concerned about what this means for the president
politically and specifically what this means for the president with the
African-American vote.

TOURE, JOURNALIST: I am. I am. I mean, first off, I was blown away
by the symbolic gesture. Just needed to stop and taken a moment. This is
an historic moment. If the arc of history bends toward justice, we`re
seeing get toward the top of the arc I think. But we still have most of
the states in America have amendments against gay marriage. We`re still
not making the turn just yet.

I am a little concerned about what will happen with the black
community, a particularly important constituency for the president. I
don`t want people to feel like I`m just picking on the black community.
There is homophobia around America.

But the black community in particularly is a little behind the curve
here, right? Fifty-five percent of black are telling pollsters they are
against gay marriage, 55 percent of whites are saying they are for gay
marriage. We were behind the curve, behind the trend of America, which is
going toward acceptance of gay marriage for years now.

And I wonder if this will not create a crisis of conscience for some
black voters, especially religious voters, especially older voters, who
were supportive Obama before and now have to say, what is most important to
me, do I need the brother to be re-elected and what we talk about on Sunday
aside? Or I got my God, my Bible, my minister and we`ve been talking about
this for years, and I need to focus on that and maybe I`ll stay home.

I don`t think they`re going to go to Mitt Romney, maybe they`ll stay
home. Maybe they don`t send in the $100 they did last time. Maybe they
don`t knock on doors like they did last time.

O`DONNELL: Jonathan Capehart, do you share that concern and that
analysis?

JONATHAN CAPEHART, WASHINGTON POST: No, I don`t. We`re talking
about two separate things. I saw in California with the Prop 8 vote,
African-Americans went overwhelmingly, 90 percent of the African American
vote went to Barack Obama, but 58 percent of the African-American vote
voted for Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in California.

I think what we`re going to see is African-Americans doing the same
thing again, meaning no matter what this president does, the African-
American community overwhelmingly is going to vote for him. Keeping the
first African-American president of the United States is office trumps
anything I think -- anything any emotions, any discomfort they might have
on -- on the president taking this very courageous stand in -- for
equality.

I just -- I mean, Toure and I are friends, I respect him, but this is
one area, and he`s not the first person to say this, and I wrote a piece
about this yesterday, where I just don`t think the president taking this
courageous stand is going to do anything to his black supporters.

O`DONNELL: Well, let`s just all agree that when we venture into this
kind of area, we`re doing a certain amount of guess work. This isn`t
exactly science.

Richard Wolffe, 2008, Florida voted for President Obama 51-48 over
McCain and on the very same ballot voted to ban same-sex marriage, 62
percent to 38 percent. But that candidate, President Obama, Senator Obama,
on that ballot, was not a candidate in favor of same-sex marriage, which he
now is.

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLTIICAL ANALYST: Yes, you know, actually if
you take me back to 2004, there`s quite a lot of research done, because
Karl Rove encouraged marriage initiatives to be done on a bunch of
different state election ballots and they happened to be battleground
states.

People went back and looked at the turnout. It did increase turnout
occurring among conservatives where marriage initiatives were on the
ballot. Actually, there was no correlation.

So, I think if you are trying to be crudely political about this, you
have to say it`s mixed. There are some regional differences here, and in a
close election, it can make a marginal difference.

You know, it`s possible that both Toure and Jonathan are right here,
that actually in terms of the percentage win among African-Americans,
President Obama will could just fine, but actually, on the margins of
turnout among religious groups, religious Latinos and religious African-
Americans, they may be inclined to stay at home.

It`s a marginal call. But in a marginal election, that it makes it
all the more gutsy the presidents that taken this step.

O`DONNELL: There are eight states where same-sex marriage is legal,
and then there`s a whole bunch passed these laws against it, and
constitutional amendments against it. And only three states have
absolutely no statute, no law on same-sex marriage. Those states are New
Jersey, Rhode Island and New Mexico. Those only three that don`t have
anything.

And so, Toure, a different dynamic here. The Karl Rove crowd cannot
put one of these things on the ballot in one of those states they want to
take away from the president, because they already did.

TOURE: Right. Right. You know, I want to back up for a second and
say civil rights should never be on the ballot. You should never give the
masses to vote for whether or not a certain group has the right to do
something, because quite often, the masses get it wrong.

If we put suffrage on the ballot, a locality of people would vote to
take that away. So, that is not something that we should give people the
right to vote up or down. That should not be part of what we do.

O`DONNELL: And so, Jonathan Capehart, would you say this works to
the president`s benefit? Is there a loss to him here? I also want to look
at it and say is there some advantage to him here. We`ve seen already an
advantage in fund-raising.

But laving fund-raising aside, do we see an electoral advantage for
the president in this choice?

CAPEHART: Electoral advantage in -- right now, I can`t answer that
question affirmatively. We have to see down the road where independents
are, in relation to the president now that he`s made this decision.

And, you know, the gay community has been with the president
overwhelmingly, going back to Richard`s analysis in terms of the African-
American community, on the margins, quite a few gay and lesbian people
upset with the president, who are not taking the public stand. Today, you
mentioned that the campaign has raised $1 million. I would be curious to
know how much of that came from gay donors. I know of one gay donor here
in Washington who -- you said he set up a fund-raising page on the Obama
Web site, and ended up raising based on just his one $500 contribution,
$7,000.

So I think you`re going to have a reenergized gay community. I think
it remains to be seen whether this will help the president with
independents, which will be very important in some of those swing states.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what John Boehner said about this today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOEHNER: I`ve always believed that marriage was between a man and
woman. All I know is that this is a very controversial issue in our
country, but most people believe that marriages are a union of a man and a
woman.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Richard Wolffe, how hard are the Republicans going to go
at the president on this?

WOLFFE: Actually, most people don`t believe in that position, so
he`s wrong on the facts.

But this is a useful thing. For a more energized Democratic Party,
more energized base for Democrats, it has an equal but opposite effect
among -- about energizing conservatives. They have huge problems in terms
of not liking their nominee, about the difference between social and
libertarian conservatism, and this allows them to pay for the cracks (ph),
it energizes the anti Obama vote, and that`s not a great thing for this
president.

O`DONNELL: Gentlemen, we have to move on. More guests to get in
here. Thank you, Toure, Jonathan Capehart, and Richard Wolffe, all of your
for joining me tonight.

CAPEHART: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, while President Obama evolved, Mitt Romney
has, of course, devolved on marriage equality. Howard Fineman was inside
Romney headquarters when the news broke today. He will tell us what
happened there.

And FOX Nation declares President Obama has declared war on marriage,
but then after that, a FOX host stood up to FOX Nation and said the
president is on the right side of history. I`ll tell you who that FOX News
host is in tonight`s rewrite.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I do not favor marriage between people of the same gender.
And I don`t favor civil unions if they are identical to marriage other than
by name. My view is that domestic partnership benefits, hospital
visitation rights and the like, are appropriate, but that the others are
not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: That was Mitt Romney answering a question he was asked
several times today, where does he stand on marriage equality? Like
President Obama, Mitt Romney has evolved. During his 1994 Senate campaign
against Ted Kennedy, Romney wrote a letter to the Massachusetts Log Cabin
Republicans, a gay rights group, saying "I am more convinced than ever
before that as we seek to establish full equality for America`s gay and
lesbian citizens, I had provide more effective leadership than my opponent.
If we are to achieve the goals we share, we must make equality gays and
lesbians a mainstream concern. My opponent cannot do this. I can and
will."

Governor Romney`s goal of ensuring rights for gays and lesbians took a
hard right turn in November 2003, after the Massachusetts Supreme Court
legalized same-sex marriages.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I agree with 3,000 years of recorded history. I disagree
with the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. Marriage is an
institution between a man and a woman. I will support an amendment to the
Massachusetts Constitution to make that expressly clear.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Today`s announcement from President Obama came just one
week after Richard Grenell, Romney`s openly gay foreign policy
spokesperson, resigned his position, saying "my ability to speak clearly
and forcefully on the issues has been greatly diminished by the hyper
partisan discussion of personal issues that sometimes comes from a
presidential campaign."

Joining me now are Howard Fineman, editorial director of
AOL/Huffington Post, and MSNBC political analyst, and Nia-Malika Henderson,
a national political reporter for "the Washington Post."

Howard, you were at Romney headquarters today when the news broke.
What was the reaction there?

HOWARD FINEMAN, AOL/HUFFINGTON POST: Well, my colleague John Ward and
I were up there just to interview top staff of the campaign as we prepare
for covering the fall election. And this news came up.

The interesting thing was the quietly pleased, I would say, but quite
wary reaction of the top people in the Romney campaign. To simplify it
only slightly, for every vote they might pick up from a swing voter in say
North Carolina, because of the president`s decision today, if Mitt Romney
were suddenly to try to do some kind of imitation of the angel of
traditional vengeance here, he could lose votes in places like Pennsylvania
or New Hampshire, where he is looking for suburban voters that he doesn`t
want to needlessly antagonize.

So word went forth that Mitt Romney should be very cautious, very
careful. The Romney campaign headquarters in New Hampshire -- excuse me,
in Boston, I don`t think ever issued an official statement of any kind,
reaction. Mitt Romney did what he did on the road quite cautiously.
Called it a tender topic, and so forth and so on.

It will be left to others, not the campaign itself, not Mitt Romney,
who is now sort of tacking back, at least stylistically, toward aiming at
suburban voters and so forth. It will be left to the Rush Limbaughs and
Ralph Reeds of the world to go ballistic over this.

O`DONNELL: Nia-Malika, I`m going to ask you what your reaction is to
the Romney let`s call it soft response to this. But I`m struck by when I
hear him say, as he did in Massachusetts as governor, after the Supreme
Court ruled -- when I says, "I agree with 3,000 years of recorded history,"
and in his 3,000 years of recorded history, he says "marriage is an
institution between a man and a woman." This is a man whose great
grandfather thought marriage was an institution between a man and five
women, as was legal when he began those marriages.

And so I`m starting to wonder if the soft response may have something
to do with that issue that exists in Romney`s family`s distant past, which
"the Washington Post" has covered and detailed rather extensively. And I`m
wondering if because of "the Washington Post" coverage and other notice of
that, that might be involved in their muted response?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, that is certainly
one reason, and maybe sort of an underlying reason for his tone today. But
I also think, you know, more broadly, it is about those independent swing
voters in states like Pennsylvania, states like Michigan, and states like
Ohio, and states like Virginia, states that he needs to win.

And I talked to some log cabin Republicans today who, of course, were
very pleased in 1994 with that version of Mitt Romney, who seemed to be
very open to equality and extending gay rights. They are very much looking
for a tone from him. They were pleased with his tone today. He talked
about the tenderness of this issue.

And they are working with other Republicans, the RNC, to make sure
that this sort of respectful tone, is what they called it, remains, and
that there isn`t this rush among Republicans to make this the kind of issue
that it was in 2004.

O`DONNELL: I want to read what Harry Reid had to say about this
today, because he found a tone that is somewhat different from the
president`s. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is of course also like
Mitt Romney a Mormon. He said, "my personal belief is that marriage is
between a man and a woman. But in a civil society, I believe that people
should be able to marry whomever they want. And it`s no business of mine
if two men or two women want to get married. The idea that allowing two
loving, committed people to marry would have any impact on my life or my
family`s life always struck me as absurd."

Howard, I`m noting a certain libertarian, Ron Paul note in there, when
he says it`s no business of mine.

FINEMAN: Well, it`s -- it`s also Nevada. It`s also western. You can
call it libertarian if you want. I thought that was a pretty impressive
statement from Harry Reid, who laid out his personal views and his views
about civil society. And I would say that while the country is divided on
this, if you look at the polls, I think Harry Reid`s statement probably
would garner -- the way he framed it would probably garner pretty strong
majority support in the country.

The business about my belief versus civil society I think was pretty
deftly done by him.

O`DONNELL: Nia-Malika, that is the kind of statement we`ve heard in
the past say from Catholic politicians on issues involving abortion, Roe
versus Wade, that sort of thing: my personal belief is this, however, in a
civil society. Is that civil -- President Obama went far beyond that today
and said, look, my personal belief is, in fact, that this should be
allowed. That`s a very different statement.

HENDERSON: No, that is a very different statement. And you heard him
talk about his wife and his daughters. You know, hit is obviously a
president who came into office an historic figure, and imagining himself,
in some ways, as alongside Lincoln, alongside LBJ, alongside FDR. And you
imagine that he was thinking about himself and the legacy that he was -- he
wants to be remembered for.

And I do think this does. There`s been so much talk about the
African-American vote. And I think this does give us African-American
leaders, African-American preachers some sort of language to start to talk
about gay marriage and gay rights in a different way. You saw some of that
already in North Carolina with the Reverend William Barbara (ph). So I
think this is certainly a turning of the page in terms of this dialogue.

O`DONNELL: Nia-Malika Henderson gets THE LAST WORD for this segment.
And Howard Fineman gets to have all of the fun at Romney headquarters
today. Thank you both very much for joining me tonight.

HENDERSON: Thank you.

FINEMAN: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, Fox Nation declare President Obama has declared
a war on marriage, and then an extraordinary thing happens. A Fox News
host declares President Obama to be -- his words -- "on the right side of
history." That`s in tonight`s Rewrite.

And two North Carolina women who have been together for 45 years will
join me along with Zach Wahls, the man whose plea to Iowa legislators on
marriage equality was seen on this program and everywhere on the Internet.
They`re coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: In tonight`s Rewrite, President Obama, Fox News and the
right side of history. It did not take long after President Obama rewrote
his public position on same-sex marriage today for Republicans to declare
that the president has declared a war on marriage. On the Fox Nation
section of the Fox News website, the headline was "Obama Flip-Flops,
Declares War on Marriage."

And the war on marriage chorus began on Fox News.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHEPARD SMITH, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: President of the United States now in
the 21st century. And Ed Henry on the North Lawn of the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Wait a minute. What did he just say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SMITH: President of the United States now in the 21st century.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: "President of the United States now in the 21st century."
That doesn`t sound like war on marriage. That`s Fox News host Shepard
Smith declaring the president to be in the 21st century. And he didn`t
stop there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SMITH: In this time of rising debt and medical issues and all the
rest, if Republicans would go out on a limb and try to make this a campaign
issue, while sitting very firmly, without much question, on the wrong side
of history on it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: But Shepard Smith has frequently been the lone voice of
reason at Fox News. And now he`s saying the president is on the right side
of history. If Fox Nation wants a war on marriage, then Fox is going to
give Fox Nation a war on marriage. Right, I mean they have to. Unless, of
course, Shepard Smith said those things about President Obama being on the
right side of history.

The war on marriage was removed from the headline on Fox News -- on
the Fox Nation section of the Fox News website after Shepard Smith said
that. So now there`s no war on marriage, just a flip-flop.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: After years of voicing strong
opposition of same-sex marriage, President Obama has reversed his position.

It sounds like earmarks, sounds like lobbyists, sounds like cutting
the deficit in half. Sounds like this president can`t make up his mind
very well on these things.

Seems like Democrats wanted to say that Mitt Romney flip-flops, but
this president flip-flops a lot.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: And so now it`s time to sit back and watch Fox News evolve
on same-sex marriage. And all they really need to do to find their way on
this one is to follow Shepard Smith, the Fox News man on the right side of
history.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: A Gallup poll found that if you know someone who is gay or
lesbian, you are more likely to support marriage equality. So in North
Carolina, the Know and Love Campaign posted this video online for people
who maybe don`t know a gay couple.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nothing will change the 45-year bond that we
have.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have had -- we have the most remarkable bond
and we think in part it`s because -- as she was saying to me in the last
day or two -- she says our core values are so much the same. We`ve never
done a ceremony, and we`re not going to until we can do one legally and
hopefully here with our family and community.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. I`ll buy that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Joining me now are Lenny Gerber and Pearl Berlin, along
with Zach Walls, a gay rights advocate who has two mothers and has authored
the new book "My Two Moms."

Lenny, tell us how you felt last night when the vote came in in North
Carolina to deny you your rights?

LENNY GERBER, IN 45 YEAR SAME SEX RELATIONSHIP: Well, look, this is
the way think about what happened last night. The Constitution of North
Carolina, Article 1, Section 1, says "we hold it to be self-evident that
all persons are created equal."

And last night, they added five words, except gays and lesbians. And
that -- that just burns a hole in my heart, that they would put that
inequality in the state constitution.

O`DONNELL: Pearl, after being wounded like that last night, what did
it feel like this afternoon when the president of the United States said he
disagreed with that vote? He had already come out against that amendment,
but has now made the public statement that he believes you should have the
right to marry?

PEARL BERLIN, IN 45 YEAR SAME SEX RELATIONSHIP: Well, naturally I was
pleased. I am a little concerned that there might be some negative effects
in the next election because of the prejudices and the discrimination. But
that he had the courage and that I have lived long enough in my life to see
this and hear this on TV, when as many as or as few as 20 years ago, nobody
ever heard the word lesbian said aloud. And in my life, I had to live
quite a while in order to know and understand what it was all about.

That President Obama spoke for the way he did today was just
wonderful.

O`DONNELL: Zach Wahls, we all heard your impassioned speech to the
Iowa legislature about this issue. What was your reaction to what
president had to say and your two moms` reaction to what the president said
today?

ZACH WAHLS, GAY RIGHTS ACTIVIST: It was unbelievable, Lawrence, to
hear those words from the sitting president of the United States. I hope
my mom, Terri, who was at work at the Beenetin Fairs (ph) Hospital -- she
actually hadn`t heard the news until I told her. She couldn`t believe it.

She just kept saying wow. And to be honest, I think that was how we
all felt. For the first sitting U.S. president to openly support same-sex
marriage to be the same president who, when he was born, his parents, a
white woman and a black man couldn`t have been married in the state of
North Carolina -- we`ve come a long way, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Lenny, do you share Pearl`s worry that this position might
hurt President Obama in his re-election campaign?

GERBER: One always worries a little bit about that, because there is
-- I mean, losing the battle last night, you know, you are reminded of how
many people are still prejudiced. On the other hand, when we see the
progress that has happened, and it`s happening so rapidly, you know, each -
- it seems like each month something else good is happening in terms of the
gay community.

And -- and people more and more are coming out, you know, like the two
of us. I mean, I`m 76 years old. Pearl is 87. We have, you know, lived
our whole life quietly. But here we are, out there in the open, the gay --
the lesbian icons of the decade or something or the year.

So, you know, this is -- everybody knows a lesbian or a gay person
now. And that is helping move this along so rapidly that I am less
concerned than I would have been five years ago or four years ago, or even
one year ago.

O`DONNELL: Pearl, what is it like to see a young man like Zach Wahls,
who is sharing the screen with you tonight, come out publicly as he did in
Iowa and speak to the legislature in defense and praise of his two mothers?

BERLIN: I just have the greatest admiration for him and respect for
his openness and honesty. And I think he -- he`s a role model that I wish
many other young people would follow.

O`DONNELL: Zach --

GERBER: And I would like to add he`s the living proof -- he is the
living proof that the children raised by gay parents or lesbian parents
come out beautifully.

O`DONNELL: Zach, you just have time to say thank you and goodnight to
Lenny and Pearl.

WAHLS: Thank you both. Pearl, right back at you. I really
appreciate it, both of you. Have a nice night.

O`DONNELL: Lenny Gerber and Pearl Berlin, and Zach Wahls, thank you.

END

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