WASHINGTON -- On Sunday’s Powerhouse Roundtable on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” political odd couple James Carville and Mary Matalin, Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and ABC’s George Will and Matthew Dowd discussed the latest on the U.S. Supreme Court and gay marriage.
STEPHANOPOULOS: ... But, first, some big news out of the Supreme Court on Friday. They took up two big gay marriage cases, one on the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal benefits to couples that are legally married in various states, but perhaps more interestingly, they took up the Proposition 8 case, which banned gay marriage in California, which at least leaves open the possibility that they get to the underlying question, whether gay marriage is a guaranteed right under the Constitution.
WILL: As part of equal protection. Peter Finley Dunne, great American humorist, created a man named Mr. Dooley, who famously said the Supreme Court follows the election returns. This decision by the Supreme Court came 31 days after an Election Day in which three states for the first time endorsed same-sex marriage at the ballot box -- never happened before -- Maine, Maryland, and the state of Washington.
Now, the question is, how will that influence the court? It could make them say it's not necessary for us to go here. They don't want to do what they did with abortion. The country was having a constructive accommodation on abortion, liberalizing abortion laws. The court yanked the subject out of democratic discourse and embittered the argument. They may say we don't want to do that, we can just let the democracy take care of this.
On the other hand, they could say it's now safe to look at this because there is something like an emerging consensus. Quite literally, the opposition to gay marriage is dying. It's old people.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That is true. At the same time, James Carville, right now at least -- and this might argue for the split-the-difference position that George talked about -- 41 states still outlaw gay marriage.
CARVILLE: Yeah. And I think George's right. It depends on whether they're going to go, you know, to allow this to happen. But, I mean, his larger point is absolutely correct. The election just matters in profound ways that we can't believe.
Look in Salt Lake City, the 12 Apostles. The Mormon Church after the election says, well, maybe we're going to change our position on homosexuality is a choice, you're not born that way. I mean, the effects of an election reverberate all the way through society. And this is just one of these that did. I cannot believe that they took this up. The fact that they took it up just tells me instinctively that they're going to uphold some...
STEPHANOPOULOS: And, really, not just -- not just the election. We see it -- the trend has been pretty clear here over the last dozen years. I want to show this Pew poll, it shows right now, back in 2001, 57% of the country opposed gay marriage, only 35% were for. This year, it's crossed, the lines have crossed, 48% approaching, you know, going above 50%, 48% now support gay marriage in the country.
MATALIN: Right, well, because Americans have common sense. There are important constitutional, biological, theological, ontological questions relative to homosexual marriage, but people who live in the real world say the greatest threat to civil order is heterosexuals who don't get married and are making babies. That's an epidemic in crisis proportions. That is irrefutably more problematic for our culture than homosexuals getting married.
So I find this an important dancing on the head of a pin argument, but in real life, looking down 30 years from now, real people understand the consequences of so many babies being born out of wedlock, to the economy and to the morality ...
KRUGMAN: By the way, that chart -- I don't know why they highlighted 2001, because it was actually a wider gap in 2004. And gay marriage was a losing thing for Democrats in 2004, and it's now a winning thing. That's amazing. Eight years, this country has changed dramatically.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So you think it's gone beyond neutral. You think it's winning?
KRUGMAN: I think -- yeah, I think it's actually -- it's actually a positive, because this is a significant bloc of voters that will make a decision based on which party they see as being favorable to equal rights here.
DOWD: To me, this -- the consensus has already emerged on this issue. It's just a question of who's going to -- is the Supreme Court going to catch up and follow that wind of the pack ...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Or get ahead of it.
DOWD: ... or get ahead of it or put a block in the path of it. I mean, if you take a look at this, there is still a division in this country over this issue, but there is no division in this country among people under 35 or 30 years old on this issue. There is no division.
Now, I have a perfect example. My son went in the Army. They asked him -- 10 years before, they'd ask everybody to raise that hands, 300 guys raise their hand, who's for gay -- who's for gays in the military? 80% of the troops said we're opposed to gays in the military. When he got in, five or six years later, 80% said they were for gays in the military. It had changed that much and that quick.
To me, we still -- you still have to know there's a huge group of folks in this country that believe this issue is not ready to be settled nationally, and they're over 35, they go to church regularly, they still view marriage as traditional and all that, but in the end, this issue, five years from now is even going to be more settled, 10 years from now is going to be more settled.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And interestingly, George Will, that is still the president's position. Even when he came out in support of gay marriage, he didn't come out for a complete federal solution. He was saying -- and he didn't say that it was a right guaranteed by the Constitution. He said let the states continue to decide this.
WILL: Well, marriage law is traditionally the prerogative of the states, but let's put a human face on this. One of the two cases concerns a New York woman who married in Canada her female partner. They lived together 44 years. The partner dies. As because the partner wasn't a man, the woman is hit with a $363,000 tax bill from the federal government. There are a thousand or more federal laws or programs that are at stake here. And the more the welfare state envelops us in regulations and benefits, the more the equal protection argument weighs in, and maybe decisively.
STEPHANOPOULOS: It's hard to see how the Supreme Court is going to allow the Defense of Marriage Act to continue to deny those benefits.