Week In Politics: Same-Sex Marriage At The Supreme Court, Gun Laws

Audie Cornish speaks with political commentators David Brooks of The New York Times and syndicated columnist Cynthia Tucker. They discuss the Supreme Court's hearing this week of cases concerning California's Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

It's time now to look back on the week in politics, and what a week it was. The gay marriage debate arrived at the Supreme Court, and White House efforts to tighten the nation's gun laws ran into serious Republican opposition. We're joined, as usual, by David Brooks of the New York Times, and sitting in this week for E.J. Dionne is syndicated columnist Cynthia Tucker. Cynthia, welcome.

CYNTHIA TUCKER: Thank you.

CORNISH: And David, how are you?

DAVID BROOKS: I am good.

CORNISH: So I want to start with gay marriage, of course. And, you know, with all the talk about the shifts in polls supporting gay marriage, and there seems to a lot of people in the media essentially trying to call this over. The upcoming cover of Time magazine, it says gay marriage already won. Rush Limbaugh this week said, I don't care what the Supreme Court does, this is now inevitable.

SIEGEL: Cynthia, let me start with you. The political peril of declaring this over before it's over.

TUCKER: Well, there is no doubt that there will be fights along the way. But I think I find myself in very, very rare agreement with Rush Limbaugh on this one. Culturally, it's over. Politically is another matter. There is still substantial resistance in the Republican Party, particularly among older voters. Huckabee is saying that social conservatives will just leave and form a third party if Republican leaders continue to insist that Republicans should soften their harsh rhetoric toward gay marriage and gay rights. And there are several states that still have on their books laws opposing gay marriage. In 2004 - Georgia was one.

CORNISH: And, David, I want to - let me jump in here, Cynthia. I want to ask David this question. He brought up something this week about what should we make of people who oppose gay marriage. You say is opposing gay marriage now the moral equivalent of opposing the Civil Rights Act, stain and career ender.

BROOKS: Yeah, I don't think it should be. You know, the institution of marriage as man and a woman has been around for thousands of years. And for people who are skeptical of changing that, I think they have the right to be granted some legitimacy.

I do think, though, that conservatives are turning around, especially young conservatives. And conservatives will continue to turn around, which is why I do think the tide is sort of irreversible.

A lot of the talk this week has been about freedom of choice. This isn't about freedom of choice. It's about marriage. Marriage is all about obligation. And I think the reason why the country, left and right, are shifting so much on this issue, it's an acknowledgement gay people exist, they should be obliged the way the rest of us are and should be embedded in an institution which carries certain obligations. So there's a pretty strong conservative argument, as well, for this, which is why I think the tide is reasonably irreversible.

CORNISH: In listening to the arguments this week, Cynthia, did you hear anything in the court from the justices' comments that gave you a better understanding of their thinking on gay marriage or about the relationships on the court itself?

TUCKER: Well, nothing really surprised me except that Justice Scalia was generally better behaved than I had expected. But generally speaking, it seemed to me that the liberal bloc held together. They seemed to favor a broader ruling on gay marriage, though that may not happen; a broader ruling which says that gay marriage is constitutionally supported.

The conservatives seemed to hold together as a bloc resisting gay marriage, and that includes Chief Justice Roberts. He surprised me a little bit. And as usual Anthony Kennedy seemed to be right in the middle. I think, though, that, you know, from what little I know about the court, those that say there probably will not be a broad ruling on this issue, probably won't be a broad ruling on the constitutionality of gay marriage from these two cases.

CORNISH: David?

BROOKS: Yeah, I was struck by how political they were. I mean, this was part about the Constitution but part about the Gallup Polls. They were looking at this tremendous shift in public opinion. I think they're just trying not to get in the way. And so I was struck they're looking for a way not to get in the way of this tide or not interfere with this tide.

And so, I think they'll go with some states' rights solution, if I can use that phrase, or the standing issue. And this is something that does concern me, and I think we should think about. The legal commentator Jeffrey Toobin talked about this. If a court strikes down a law because the administration decides not to defend it, then the administration has the power to destroy and void every law simply by not defending it. And that's an extreme expansion of executive power.

And so I'm - that's the one thing I'm a little worried about here, if they take advantage of this standing issue as a chance to strike it down.

CORNISH: In the time we have left, I want to turn to guns now. Here's President Obama in a speech yesterday talking about the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Less than 100 days ago that happened, and the entire country was shocked, and the entire country pledged we would do something about it, and this time would be different. Shame on us if we've forgotten.

CORNISH: Now this week, this is part of a big push by the White House to make this feel like a front-burner issue. But just the fact that they had to do it, that it's not necessarily front-burner. I mean, what does it say about the momentum on this issue?

TUCKER: Well, I think the momentum is lost. You know, I am sorry, I am just deeply disappointed that it looks like there will be no substantial gun control legislation out of Newtown. As recently as February, when the debate began in earnest, it looked as though some Republicans might at least sign onto a ban on high-capacity magazines. That has been tossed by the wayside. Even Harry Reid said he's not going to bring up a vote on that. And Republicans seem prepared to filibuster any new law. And I am just deeply, deeply disappointed in that.

CORNISH: And David?

BROOKS: I think we might still get the background checks, which to me is the most important of all these things. The one thing that has not happened is they haven't been able to rally red state people, red state Democrats and red state Republicans. And that was obviously the thing they needed to do. And...

CORNISH: I was going to ask you about this because we're hearing about a filibuster effort, right, from Senate Republicans.

BROOKS: Right. And to be fair, a lot of the red state Democrats who seemed to be moving 100 days ago in a more gun-controlly direction are not. The political tides have shifted back. So they feel pressure the other way. And so framing this issue in a way that could make those red state people feel comfortable was the key, and that was not successfully done. And, frankly, having Michael Bloomberg as the face of this issue is counterproductive.

CORNISH: But are these threats against the assault weapons ban really, rather than the universal background checks, which have more support?

BROOKS: Right. And I do think if we can get the background checks, if we can get some laws on the gun trafficking, and if we get some things to control the areas where crime and murder is at its highest, those few areas around the country, then there's still hope to salvage something that will make some tangential difference on the homicide rate.

CORNISH: Well, that's all the time we have for now. David Brooks of the New York Times and, sitting in this week, syndicated columnist Cynthia Tucker, thank you to you both.

BROOKS: Thank you.

TUCKER: Good to be here.

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