Democrats who backed President Obama for a second term expecting the president to make an all-out effort to legalize gay marriage are instead puzzled over the silence from the White House now that the Supreme Court has decided to take up the issue.
The president has become far more assertive on issues important to his supporters since his re-election last month, from demanding a tax increase on the wealthy to backing labor unions under attack at the state level. Those who complained over the last four years that Obama was too quick to concede in negotiations with Republicans have expressed higher hopes that the president may deliver on the agenda he didn't secure in his first term.
Obama, who presided over the repeal of the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" ban on gays serving in the military, endorsed same-sex marriage earlier this year, though he didn't disclose whether he also thinks such marriages are constitutionally protected. That lack of clarity has gay rights advocates questioning why the president isn't being more outspoken now that the issue has the national spotlight once again.
The court agreed to hear two cases on same-sex marriage. One centers around California's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, known as Proposition 8, and around the question of whether gay Americans have the same right to marriage as heterosexuals. The court is also taking up a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between only a man and a woman and limits federal benefits for gay couples.
White House spokesman Jay Carney on Tuesday referred all questions about the cases to the Justice Department. Carney rebuffed reporters pressing him to expound on the president's personal beliefs about the constitutionality of same-sex marriage.
That posture has gay rights advocates worried about whether Obama will fight for their cause.
"Not good enough. We need our 'fierce advocate' in the White House to do right by the LGBT community, and take this simple, but hugely important, action," said Rick Jacobs, founder of the Courage Campaign. "A bare majority of Americans support same-sex marriage. If the Department of Justice tells the Supreme Court it believes banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, it will make headlines nationwide and keep the numbers moving in the right direction."
Obama's Justice Department stopped enforcing the Defense of Marriage Act, but his views on same-sex matrimony still appear more conservative than those of other Democrats -- and his reluctance to make gay marriage a federal issue has been obvious. In endorsing gay marriage, Obama suggested it was a matter to be worked out at the state level.
Gay marriage is already legal or soon will be in nine states -- Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Washington -- and the District. But 31 states, most recently North Carolina, explicitly prohibited gay marriage.
Judges will hear the cases in March, with decisions expected to come by the end of June.