Alex Witt | March 31, 2013
>>> same-sex marriage, nearly 80% of americans are for same sex marriage. brian brown says it does not mean it is a foregone conclusion.
>> marriage is by definition the union of a man and a woman and apart from all of this inevitability talk, 31 states have voted to say that that is the truth. they've embedded it in their state constitutions . only four have voted against it. there's a myth that somehow this is inevitable.
>> joining me now is robert raven who served as democratic counsel to the house subcommittee on the constitution during the doma hearings in 1996 and is now the president of the raven group. thanks for being here, robert . you just heard what brian brown said. what's your reaction to that?
>> well, i'm sorry that he feels that way. the first issue is we don't put civil rights to a vote of the popular will in this country. the thing about gay marriage , which didn't exist in this country or frankly where where in the world until 2000 , is it is increasingly supportive and it's a tribute to the open hearts and open minds of the american public as americans see in state after state loving, committed couples, wanting them to come together in the most conservative institution and say we, too, want to commit to each other, be there for each other in sickness and in health, increasingly american minds and hearts are opening and it's just a wonderful, wonderful thing to observe, richard .
>> i want to draw on your wisdom or ability to give us context, if you will, of the gray hair figuratively and perhaps literally on this issue.
>> literally, literally.
>> when we look back at 1996 the climate there, the political climate you encountered, at the end you had 342 yeas. how is that different today?
>> it's been a tremendous change, richard . it was an awful, awful time to sit in the well of the house of representatives and the committee as it was being discussed, as men and women were voting on our love and talking about the commitment of gays and lesbians as if it were absurd when those of us involved in committed relationships knew that to be the opposite. it was a difficult time. it was a wrenching time. the conservatives had recently taken over congress and there were a series of things they were trying to rewrite the constitution on. this was just one of them. but the world has changed enormously since 1996 and many of the defenders, and i say that with quotes around it because no marriage was then or now under attack. many of the defenders have changed their minds. bob barr , a congressman who was the chief proponent of it has said that it was a mistake. president clinton , who signed it into law has repudiated doma and said it was a mistake. i'm delighted on this easter sunday passover, this time of renewal and rebirth for the american public to be living in a time people are beginning to see what a mistake that legislation was.
>> robert , so to remind us that you served as a democratic counsel to the house subcommittee on the constitution at the time of the '90s did you think it was constitutional and what's your perspective today on how the highest court will address this issue?
>> we thought at the time, richard , the very few members of congress, the heroes who 0 stood up to vote against it, we thought at the time, in the committee report that was passed out in 1996 from the minority reflects from the very beginning that not only was it bad policy but that it was unconstitutional. it's impossible to know what the nine justices are going to do, the nine are the only people in the country who know and even they don't talk to each other in the classical sense.
>> from what you heard, though, of the argument and i don't have too much time. i apologize for interrupting. aren't they balancing two strong traditions as the " l.a. times " describes it, equal rights as well as tradition of the states and the states being able to use its rights versus the people deciding very important social issues such as this.
>> yes. that's absolutely right, richard . it's a complicated set of questions which is why they grant add historic two hours of debate. essentially the question is can you write into the law lines which divide people? california did it with prop proposition 8 and congress did it in 1996 with the alleged defense of marriage act and the court is wrestling with that and the conundrum for the conservatives who are strong proponents of states' rights in the face of an increasing number of states saying that they support gay marriage . it's harder and harder for conservatives to say, well, we're for states' rights unless the state does something we don't approve of. it will be an interesting conversation among the nine justices. i am confident whether or not we win, those of us who are on the side of equal rights and marriage equality , whether or not we win in these cases, we're going to win. this is going in one direction as the american public increasingly sees that gay men and women want to come together, and express their love.
>> robert raven, thank you so much on this sunday.