Meet the Press   |  March 31, 2013

Gay marriage and SCOTUS: Roundtable reflections

A Meet the Press panel of experts discusses the same-sex marriage debate in the Supreme Court.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> for the second straight day the subject of same-sex marriage has been before the highest court in the land. two landmark cases in two days as a topic that is moving quickly in terms of public opinion comes before a court that tends to move slowly.

>> forces are colliding. joining us now to discuss the politics of same-sex marriage the host of msnbc politics nation and president and founder of national action network reverend al sharpton . president of the national organization are for marriage, brian brown . nbc news justice correspondent, pete williams . sticking around, who is your vafd the vote as a panelist survivor, wall street news columnist peggy noonan and joining us actor rob reiner . mr. reiner, thank you.

>> thank you for having me.

>> pete , i want to make you do your correspondent job. what happened this week? where's the court ?

>> well, what i think we're not going to get is some sort of sweeping ruling on same-sex marriage. we're probably not going to get some sort of sweeping ruling on prop 8. on the prop 8 case , the case from california , this is the proposition passed by 52% of voters that stopped same-sex marriage in the state. it seemed like the supreme court is just not ready to rule one way or the other on it. they're going to find some way to send this case back to california stamped incommittee either by saying that the prop 8 proponents did not have the correct legal standing to enter the court in the first lace, or they're just not ready to decide it. people may think that's weird but the security doesn't have to take any case and there are sometimes situations where they say we're just not ready. on doma i think they will.

>> the marriage act ?

>> the defense of marriage act , signed by president clinton in 1996 . it says the it federal government cannot recognize same-sex marriage even in the states now numbing nine plus d.c. i think the court will find some way to strike doma down, with but that will not affect any state in terms of whether it has to allow same-sex marriage.

>> you know, you talk about the first issue whether they should have taken the case. we heard them, the justices, almost debating that issue amongst themselves. i want to play audio between justice kennedy and justice scalia on that fact.

>> i just wonder if the case was properly granted.

>> it's too late for that now, isn't it? we granted cert. that's essentially asking, you know, why did we grant cert. we should let it percolate for another -- you know, we've cross that had river, i think.

>> rob reiner , you worked really hard to get this prop 8 kis in front of the supreme court . the supreme court agreed to take your case. if they say, never mind, and send it back, is that still a victory to you because it does overturn prop 8 on a state level?

>> yes. it is a victory because the reason we set out to do this to begin with was twofold. one was to strike down prop 8 which, if they send it back as pete williams described, we will have accomplished that. the other reason we did it and the big reason was to educate the country, was to put this on a national platform, to have this national discussion which we've had and we've seen the polls move dramatically. so we were at somewhere in the 40s when we started four years ago and now as you cited we're at 58% with 80% of people under 30 accepting the idea of same-sex marriage. so this conversation that we've had, this education process, has been very, very effective and i believe there's an inevitability now. the snowball is rolling down the hill, and it's inevitable.

>> brian , i want to get you to react to something is. it was an exchange between justice kagan and charles cooper , the lawyer, defending prop 8. what's the point of federal recognition of marriage? take a look.

>> if you're over the age of 55, you don't help us serve the government's interest in regulating procreation through marriage. so why is that different?

>> your honor, even with respect to couples over the age of 55, it is very rare that both couples, both parties to the couple are infertile and the traditional --

>> no, really, because if a couple -- [ laughter ] i can just assure you if both the woman and the man are over the age of 55, there are not a lot of children coming out of that marriage. [ laughter ]

>> it became a laugh line. that is among, brian , the issues that traditional marriage advocates have been making. if it's a laugh line in a courtroom, does that mean that argument is no longer valid?

>> well, the truth is the truth. and the truth is marriage is based upon the distinction between men and women, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers. marriage is the one institution that a brings together the two great halves of humanity, male and female, in one institution to connect husbands and wives together and to any children they may bear. the question before the court is not only on this issue what have is marriage. marriage is, by definition, the union of a man and a woman and a apart from all of this inevitability talk, 31 states have voted to say 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. look, north carolina passed its constitution constitutional amendment --

>> very low turnout election.

>> eight months ago by 61%. the polls in california had us at 36%. support for tradition al marriage. but when people came out, they voted by 53% to support traditional marriage . so the real issue is, is the court going to launch another culture war by trumping the votes of these states and of the duly elected members of congress who passed doma .

>> let me ask you this, if they punt, if they punt prop 8, is that a victory or a loss or a fight another day?

>> well, again, i disagree with pete . i don't think the court is going to punt. the court is going to answer the question. the question is simple. do the people of the state of california , do the people of the states of this country have the right to have their voices heard, or is the court going to trash over 15 million votes? the lower court ruling wasn't just about proposition 8 and what is being brought forward is the myth that somehow embedded within our constitution something the founders didn't see and we haven't seen up until now, there is a right to redefine the very nature of marriage.

>> reverend sharpton, i want to put up a poll number. this is from 1968 . this was public opinion on interracial marriage . do you approve of marriage between whites and nonwhites was the way it was worded. the supreme court ruled anyway and they got rid of those laws that they said discriminated. there were still a few remaining state laws. public opinion played no role. should public opinion matter in this case?

>> public opinion and votes have nothing to do with this. the challenge of the court is not what they're going to do with votes. the challenge of the court is are they going to protect people's rights ? when you look at the doma case and you look at miss windsor who was not able it -- who was forced to pay over $350,000 in estate tax because she did not have the right of a partner who had passed on, who they had built this wealth together, her rights were violated. so there are many people who may agree with traditional marriage as people define it but feel they don't have the right to have an unequal situation with others and, therefore, define for them their life. my battle with brian is not over marriage. my battle is he doesn't have the right to impose his definition of marriage and therefore make inequality on other people.

>> can you, peggy, can society handle the court basically agreeing with both of them that, okay, you have traditional -- a traditional view of marriage but somebody in a same-sex civil union or marriage shouldn't be denied the rights that married couples between men and women get when it comes to financial situations and things like that?

>> people were thinking in the past few years the civil partnerships , not marriage, but legal civil partnerships that conferred the protection sought by the woman who brought the suit might be a preferable way to go. but that's a legal question. i'm not really qualified to speak of it. two things struck me about the past few days and the court . one this is an epic, big, cultural debate that's supposed to be happening. and yet it was a short, sometimes weirdly comic sort of shallow debate. did you find it that way? i mean, i was really struck that they were not talking with about big issues but sort of dumb stuff that you talk about in college dorms. forgive me.

>> no, no.

>> or is this the norm of the court ?

>> i would say this was not -- despite the efforts by lawyers on both sides -- not, in terms of the justices, a fundamental discussion about, shall we have sa same-sex marriage or shall we not? is it a good thing for the country or isn't it? the court just for whatever reason doesn't want to go there at this point. now, to be clear, there are certainly some conservatives who are prepared to uphold prop 8 and some of the court 's liberals who are prepared to strike it down. the problem is the middle, justice kennedy , who is the key vote here. he's the author of the two most important gay rights rulings in the court 's history, for whatever reason isn't ready to go there.

>> rob reiner , how important has hollywood been? has hollywood played the same role on same-sex marriage that baseball basically played on integration when they were essentially a decade ahead of the country's politicians on civil rights ? "all in the family" did the first ever show featuring a homosexual character.

>> i don't know about whether or not hollywood has played a role or not, but, you know, here is the thing. we're talking about a civil right. i mean, to talk about, you know, polls and public opinion when it comes to civil rights , you know, where was the public? like you said in loving vs. virginia are where was the public and our founding fathers when they said slavery was okay or women weren't allowed to vote? these are civil rights issues and there is one group of people in this country that is not regarded equal under the law. and until we have everyone, all of our citizens, regarded equal under the law, we're not realizing the precepts of our country. so this debate, i agree with pete which wiilliams, i think the supreme court was scared to take this on. but the fact of the matter is it has been taken on and there will be gay marriage in this country without question because we cannot look at our fellow sit citizens and say that they deserve less than we in the heterosexual community. it just doesn't square.

>> and something we found in the "meet the press" archives having to do with the civil rights movement in this issue of patience or not. jackie be robinson was a guest on "meet the press" in 1957 . and i want to play an audio excerpt of it and you will hear jackie robinson asked about this issue of whether african- americans should be patient when it comes to certain rights issues. take a listen.

>> how do you answer those people who insist that the naach is moving very, very fast to get the rights for the negro but seems to be doing not enough to impress upon the knnegro his own responsibility as he gets these rights ?

>> when they say that the naacp is moving too fast, you know, i heard that, mr. spivak, when i was out in pasadena, california , trying to get into the ymca. take your i'm. be patient. patience is fine. i think that if we go back and check our records the negro has proven beyond a doubt that we have been more than patient in seeking our rights as american citizens. be patient, i was told as a kid. i keep hearing that today. let's be patient. let's take our time. things will come. it seems to me that the civil war has been over about 93 years. and if that isn't patience, i don't know what is.

>> brian , you've been critical of whether same-sex marriage is part of the civil rights argument.

>> well, i think it's a slur on the americans , the majority of americans who stood up to vote for what president obama a year ago agreed to what secretary clinton agreed to two weeks ago that it takes a man and a woman to make a marriage. it's a slur on them to somehow say that opponents of redefining marriage are in the same boat as those who oppose interracial marriage . that is just a slur. it's an assertion. what we are fighting about is, is there a civil right to re redefine marriage? we say, no, are there is mo such civil right. the laws against interracial marriage were about keeping the races apart. marriage is the union of a man and a woman. it's about bringing the sexes together. that is a good and beautiful thing, and i think it's a slur to say that it's bigotry to stand up for this truth.

>> reverend sharpton?

>> it was a battle on interracial marriage of people saying that traditional marriage in this country was between people of the same race and that others that were supreme had the right to decide what the tradition was. they had the right to tell others that were inferior they couldn't marry who was superior. what we are fighting here is the rights of people to be protected. it is not the same thing as racial but it's the same thing when you have others decide the prerogative of people's lives and you cannot fight for one's rights without fighting for everyone's rights and i think it is absurd for people to say we're going to stand for people to have the right to determine their lives irregardless, rather, of race. but they can't do it regardless of sex and it's a cop-out to have a civil union . just shack up. don't get married. people have rights but they don't have rights .

>> gays and lesbians are have the right to live as they choose.

>> they have the right as long as it meets with your moral standard.

>> that's not right. marriage comes before the states. the state does not create it and now we know why this is before the supreme court who will see if they have the guts to make a stand one way or