'Today' Show Panel Praises Pop Culture Being 'Ahead of the Courts' on Gay Marriage

Leading off a panel discussion on Thursday's NBC Today applauding the Supreme Court's gay marriage decisions, co-host Natalie Morales proclaimed: "Wednesday's historic ruling on same-sex marriage is being celebrated across the country, but it was sixteen years ago when Ellen Degeneres marked a milestone, breaking a huge barrier in front of millions of people on primetime TV." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

After a clip played of Degeneres coming out on her sitcom in 1997, fill-in co-host Carson Daly posed the question: "So how much influence has pop culture had on America's changing attitude and the Supreme Court decision?" Later in the segment, Morales observed: "I mean, pop culture always seems to be ahead of the courts in these instances, right?"

In response, pop culture expert Ramin Setoodeh agreed: "A lot of people, I mean, even if you look at the New York Times article, they explicitly said one of the reasons why this ruling seemed like it was natural was because public opinion had changed and the reason public opinion has changed is because the stories we see on TV and in the movies and the music we listen to, reflects that change."

SCOTUS Blog publisher and newly named NBC News contributor, Tom Goldstein, was also on the panel. He cheered the high court overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, arguing it "sends maybe a moral message that these unions deserve equal treatment. And I think that's going to make a big difference throughout the country."

Daly fretted: "What about the seventy percent of Americans from Florida to Alaska, the some thirty seven states where the Court didn't really rule about same-sex marriage there?" Goldstein replied: "...it suggests, I think, to a lot of the country that's undecided that the momentum in that direction is a good thing and should be recognized."

As a panelist on the March 26 Today, Daly ranted about the upcoming court decision: "The more conservative the Court decision is, the more backlash there'll be by the people....I can't believe that we're even discussing this, it still seems so archaic. Because there is a new normal out there. We gotta move on."


Here is a full transcript of the June 27 segment:

9:13AM ET

NATALIE MORALES: Wednesday's historic ruling on same-sex marriage is being celebrated across the country, but it was sixteen years ago when Ellen Degeneres marked a milestone, breaking a huge barrier in front of millions of people on primetime TV.

ELLEN DEGENERES: I mean what is wrong? Why do I have to be so ashamed? I mean, why can't I just say the truth? I mean, be who I am? I'm thirty five years old and I'm still afraid to tell people. I mean, I just – Susan, I'm gay.

CARSON DALY: So how much influence has pop culture had on America's changing attitude and the Supreme Court decision? Ramin Setoodeh is a pop culture expert, Tom Goldstein is the publisher of SCOTUS Blog and a consultant here at NBC News, and Greg Louganis, of course, an Olympic diving gold medalist who came out in 1994. Good morning to you all. Thanks for being here.

MORALES: Welcome, guys.

LOUGANIS: Good morning.

DALY: Big day.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Breaking Barriers; The Changing Face of Family in America]

MORALES: Yeah, how big a deal is this law really, Tom?

TOM GOLDSTEIN: Well, it's a significant law and even more significant decision. This is a federal statute that said, "If you have a same-sex marriage from the dozen or so states that recognize them, we as the federal government don't care. We won't recognize that marriage for Social Security benefits or estate tax or anything else." But the decision invalidating it not only gets rid of that law but sends maybe a moral message that these unions deserve equal treatment. And I think that's going to make a big difference throughout the country.

DALY: What about the seventy percent of Americans from Florida to Alaska, the some thirty seven states where the Court didn't really rule about same-sex marriage there?

GOLDSTEIN: Right. Yesterday's decisions don't say there is a right to same-sex marriage, they don't require the states to change. But instead, what it does is it says we're going to respect it if you do have that same-sex union and, also, it suggests, I think, to a lot of the country that's undecided that the momentum in that direction is a good thing and should be recognized.

MORALES: And it gives same-sex couples who are married the same spousal rights, so they therefore are entitled to insurance and other things that, you know, heterosexual couples are entitled to as well. So economically, what's the impact?

GOLDSTEIN: Well, that's true when it comes to federal law. It used to be, before the statute was struck down yesterday, that if you were a same-sex couple you wouldn't get, for example, the Social Security survivor benefits, when it comes to government benefits. And that's different now. The economic impact? Well, it matters to big companies that supported striking the law down because they thought it was incredibly confusing to have couples that wouldn't have rights for state law, for example, but might for federal law, or the reverse. Now there's going to be a lot more uniformity. It's a lot simpler.

DALY: Ramin, a lot of breaking down of what the two court rulings meant yesterday in legal terms, but what about for just for general conversation in America about same-sex?

RAMIN SETOODEH: I think when you look back at that clip with Ellen, that seems like it was so long ago, but it wasn't. 1997, I remember I was in high school when Ellen came out of the closet and it was such a big deal because we didn't really have too many gay characters on TV. And now when we look on the characters on Glee, when we look at athletes, when we look at what's happening in music, with Lady Gaga, with the song from McLemore, "Same Love." Everyone is really talking about the fact that it's not, you know, there are people that are different and there are gay people and we know what they look like and you see it on reality TV. And I think we've come a really far way.

MORALES: Even the President has changed his tune on this.

SETOODEH: Even the President has changed what he said, yes.

MORALES: Well, Ellen, by the way, tweeted out yesterday, "It's a supremely wonderful day for equality. Prop 8 is over and so is DOMA. Congratulations, everyone, and I mean everyone." So her influence has been huge on changing perception.

DALY: For sure.

MORALES: But Greg, I know you're about to be married soon. You announced that you're engaged.

GREG LOUGANIS: Yeah.

DALY: Congratulations.

LOUGANIS: Last week.

MORALES: What does this mean for couples who – yeah, congratulations.

DALY: It must have been a big day for you yesterday. What was it like for you personally yesterday?

LOUGANIS: It was amazing, I was getting on a flight here to come to New York and then all of a sudden the news hit and then my like phone started going crazy and it was like, "You have to power down. You have to power down." So I was trying o get to everybody and all the congratulations and everything. I'm going to be able to marry the love of my life, Johnny Shio, and, you know, now we can go forward and be recognized as a married couple.

DALY: That's fantastic.

MORALES: And Ramin, when you talk about pop culture, I mean, pop culture always seems to be ahead of the courts in these instances, right?

SETOODEH: Right. A lot of people, I mean, even if you look at the New York Times article, they explicitly said one of the reasons why this ruling seemed like it was natural was because public opinion had changed and the reason public opinion has changed is because the stories we see on TV and in the movies and the music we listen to, reflects that change.

DALY: Tom, in about thirty seconds give us what is the impact of this ruling yesterday, five, ten years down the road?

GOLDSTEIN: Well, I think it really continues to build the momentum towards those states that are recognizing same-sex marriage. I wouldn't look to see the courts mandate that, to say you have a constitutional right to it, but I'd say that group of 12 or 13 states becomes 25 or 30.

DALY: There we go.

MORALES: Alright.

DALY: Congratulations. Great day. Thank you for your discussion, fellows, we appreciate it. Tom Goldstein, Ramin Setoodeh, Greg Louganis, of course, thank you.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC