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Supreme Court to Rule on Same-Sex Marriage; Protests Expect in Michigan Over Right-to-Work Law; SEAL Team Member Killed in Afghanistan Identified; Fiscal Cliff May Hit Food Safety; Severe Weather Outbreak.

Aired December 10, 2012 - 11:30   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: The rest of the week? How about the rest of the year?



ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: I just signed you up for a little job.

Because the fiscal cliff is so confusing on a personal level, and how it's going to affect each of our viewers, we're asking, go ahead and tweet us your questions.

We figured this would be a good idea to put you guys, you and Ali Velshi, to work.

That's the address, @CNNAshleigh. Specific questions about how the fiscal cliff could impact you, your family or business. And we've got the experts, literally live, as your financial planners, live on the air, to answer some of those questions.

Are you glad that I just signed you up for that?

ROMANS: All right, I'm in.

BANFIELD: You'll be seeing Christine all week long.



BANFIELD: It is divisive. Ferociously debated. Now, same-sex marriage is going all the way to the United States Supreme Court. Just as women's rights did decades ago. And there are two constitutional questions that the justices need to sort out, a challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act and also, California's Proposition 8.

And how's this for a backdrop? In Washington State, thousands of gay couples got married on Sunday. And the New Year promises the same for those in Maryland and Maine when their new state laws take effect. Right now, same-sex marriage is legal in nine states and Washington, but it's either banned or not recognized in more than 30 states. And it's just not recognized at all by federal law either. That's the Defense of Marriage Act.

The high court has been split on nearly every major decision with Justice Anthony Kennedy often casting the swing vote. Chief Justice John Roberts has also been a wild card on occasion. So as you can imagine, past opinions of these people have become a bit of a window perhaps into what future decisions may yield. And all of this has critics and supporters of gay marriage on edge and waiting.

And that includes Evan Wolfson, who is the executive director of founder of the advocacy group, Freedom to Marry, or more popularly referred to as the godfather of the gay marriage movement.

So, I hear people asking the question of either people who are before or against the issue of gay marriage, you must be excited that the Supreme Court is finally going to take this up. Some people are excited. Some people are very worried. How are you feeling?

EVAN WOLFSON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, FREEDOM TO MARRY: Right, well, the stakes are very, very high. And there's good reason to be excited and hopeful that the court's going to do the right thing for the couples seeking the freedom to marry. And there's good reason to be nervous. What I like to do is focus on how I can make a difference. Instead of sitting around worrying, I want to get out there and do everything I can to maximize our chances of winning.

BANFIELD: And what would you do?

WOLFSON: Winning more states, creating the climate that says to the judge, you can do the right thing and not only will it stand the test of time, but it will be true to where the American people are. The more we can show that momentum, the more we can make progress on the ground, the more we show where the right side of history is.

BANFIELD: Is progress on the ground also trying to seek amicus brief from some of the top levels, people across the country, friend-of-the- court briefs, in support of your position?

WOLFSON: Yes, I think there will be powerful voices heard, business, labor, social welfare, human relations. All these kinds of groups will be heard from front of court along with the stories of couples.

Look, the advocates are going to do a great job in these cases. They're terrific on both, but we need to be making the same strong case in court of public opinion.

BANFIELD: Things have shifted dramatically in this country in just a few short years and in a decade in terms of how people weigh in on gay marriage. And now, it looks like a majority is pro gay marriage. So it's sort of an odd question because the Supreme Court's going to decide. They're going to decide either yes or no. They haven't rejected looking at this case, so whatever they do will be precipice.

WOLFSON: They added a question about whether the anti gay side has standing. So we don't actually know that the court's right, when the trial judge ruled, there's no good reason for this discrimination.


BANFIELD: Two technicalities like that is I remember --

WOLFSON: That's right.

BANFIELD: -- reading through --


WOLFSON: Each case has a technical question. So we don't know what the court's going to do. We could sit here and have endless amounts of interesting conversations.

BANFIELD: So, if the court decides to get beyond those two technicalities and rule, adjudicate this case, it effectively becomes law of the land. In the case of Prop 8, it becomes precedent, which could mean law of the land for every state.

WOLFSON: Right. But again, the court in the Prop 8 case could rule that what California did, in according freedom to marry and then stripping it away selectively from one group of people, was unconstitutional, or the court could do a broader ruling and say that it is unconstitutional generally to deny loving and committed couples the freedom to marry. Ultimately --


BANFIELD: In this case, it means California --

WOLFSON: Would be restored.

BANFIELD: And just California?

WOLFSON: And just California. And time would continue to build and we would continue to build more states like we won New York, Maine. Go forward. But the story of our country is never that we have to win in all 50 states, fight for our basic freedoms. The idea is that we get enough states, enough progress, people understand it and then the court finishes the job.

BANFIELD: Let me ask you about some of the opinions that have been written by Anthony Kennedy, because I think that is very telling as to where his mind is, whether he morally agrees or disagrees with the notion of gay marriage. In 1992, in Roe v. Wade, he wrote, quote, "Our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code." He's personally opposed to abortion, but voted in the opposite. There's also, in 1996, Kennedy was ruling -- voter measure that repealed gay rights ordinances. He wrote, "The measure was born of animosity towards gays. The Constitution prohibits laws singling out a certain class of citizens for disfavored legal status or general hardships." Those are pretty strong words that sound as though he's in the bag.

WOLFSON: I would never consider any justice in the bag, but I think Justice Kennedy has some very powerful liberty rulings to be proud of, and this will be, should he rule the right way, consistent with his jurisprudence of liberty. It will be a vindication of him on the right side of history.

I think all these judges have to ask themselves, knowing where the country's going, knowing where the people are, do I want to be the last gasp of prejudice or stand on the right side of history and be remembered for having done the right thing.

BANFIELD: As a final question, now that the court will likely make the decision, if it's not the decision that you are seeking, would you be regretful that the movement decided to put this into the courts in the first place because, right now, any ballot measure it would seem in California might be a snap for you.

WOLFSON: No, ballot measures are very, very difficult. And the whole idea that people should have to go and put their right up to your freedom of speech, someone else's freedom of religion, my freedom to marry. Should you decide that? That's not the way America's supposed to operate. The reason we have constitution and courts is to vindicate the rights of all of us. The best thing we can do to make this the right time, win more states and keep that momentum going to show the justices they can do the right thing.

BANFIELD: I think you only have a couple of months.

It's great to talk to you. Thanks.

It's a tricky concept for a lot of people, but generally speaking, I think there are a lot of shifts and changes. And it'll be fascinating to see what these nine justices do.

WOLFSON: Right. And what we do not meantime.

BANFIELD: Thanks for coming in.

WOLFSON: Thank you.

BANFIELD: Nice to meet you.

The Supreme Court will likely hear oral arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act and California's Prop 8 in March. That's what we're told. So if you're waiting on the date for the ruling, don't have a date for you, but you can bet your bottom dollar it will be late June.


BANFIELD: Experts say what happens over the next 48 hours in Michigan could change the course of the nation's labor movement. That's because the state's House and Senate are trying to hammer out some legislation there that's going to make Michigan the 24th Right-to-Work state. Opponents say that will lower wages and benefits and hurt the middle class, and that strong unions built Michigan's middle class. But supporters say the legislation will spark economic growth and encourage fairness.

Our Alison Kosik is live in Lansing with the latest.

I know they're really bracing for an onslaught of people, specifically by tomorrow. Lay out the essentials of the story for me if you would, Alison.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. They are, police are bracing for what's to come tomorrow. Right now is sort of the quiet before the storm. You know, you see the barricades going up here and there is a pretty good police presence here today in and around the state capital building here in Michigan in preparation for what's to come, because last week, we got a taste of it. Thousands of demonstrators descended upon this building as these votes were coming through on this Right-to-Work law. And you know, as we get closer to the final votes, which are expected to happen tomorrow, these demonstrations are expected to grow even more intense.

What's going to happen tomorrow is the House and Senate, inside the building here, each has to pass each other's bill. And once that happens -- by the way, the votes will start around 10:00 a.m. Once that happens, and it is expected to pass, that bill will go to Governor Snyder's desk for his signature. The governor met with a delegation of Congressional Democrats this morning. They asked the governor to veto or at least delay his decision. The governor says he will seriously consider their concerns.

BANFIELD: And just quickly, the president is on his way to Michigan as well today. Is that coincidence?

KOSIK: It could be. But you know, the White House did speak out against this bill last week. With the White House spokesman saying you know, speaking out against it. And it's not the first time President Obama has been against Right-to-Work legislation. You looked at what happened in Wisconsin with Governor Scott Walker, his attempt to take away collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin. President Obama was very vocal about that. And he's spoken out about this, too, saying that unions have helped the middle class and that they've helped the American economy -- Ashleigh?

BANFIELD: Alison Kosik, live for us, watching the impending crowds in Lansing.

Thanks, Alison.

Stay with CNN. Today, at 2:00 p.m. eastern is when President Obama is set to speak live about what he quotes as the economy and middle class families, which is what the mission is supposed to be about. We're also going to see if he has anything to say about exactly what Alison was just reporting on in Lancing.

And I have some breaking news. An update about the death of the Navy SEAL in Afghanistan that we brought you just about a half hour ago. The Defense Department is now sending out his identity. And he -- he was Petty Officer First Class Nicolas Checque, 28 years old, of Monroeville, pennsylvania. Special Op, killed in action during that Special Forces mission to rescue an American doctor in Afghanistan. That doctor, he was either kidnapped by Taliban or smugglers. We do know that Checque was a member of SEAL Team Six, the same team that carried out the raid and got Osama bin Laden. But as expected, the government is not telling us right now if, sadly, Petty Officer Checque was part of that raid. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: If Washington can't keep us in this country from plunging off a fiscal cliff, there seems to be more at stake than many know. We know about the massive taxes and the big cuts to the military and entitlement programs, but there's something else that could happen, and it could directly impact the safety of the food you buy and the food you eat.

Here's CNN's Emily Schmidt with the details.



EMILY SCHMIDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Preparing for the holidays at their Paul and Tressa Bennett's house is a reminder of something else just around the corner, a fiscal cliff deadline that is personal here.

TRESSA BENNETT, WORRIES ABOUT FOOD SAFETY: I just can't imagine funding being cut at this point. It would be tragic.

SCHMIDT: Tressa is worried mandatory budget cuts would hurt food safety inspection that's mattered to her since her twins were born in 1999.

TRESSA BENNETT: Chloe was in the hospital for two weeks, and Luke for three.

SCHMIDT: She and her babies got listeria poisoning from meat she ate while pregnant.

The Centers for Disease Control says contaminated food sickens about 48 million people a year. 3,000 people die. The FDA and the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service are charged with protecting the food supply. An 8.2 percent budget cut translates to a combined $157 million. There's no word what cuts mean to inspector staffing.

CHRIS WOLDROP, CONSUMER FEDERATION OF AMERICA: Both FDA and USDA are stretched thin when it comes to the inspection activities and the food safety work they do. They really need increased resources and not fewer resources.

DEAN CLANCY, FREEDOMWORKS: Agencies always say they're stretched.

SCHMIDT: Dean Clancy is with FreedomWorks, an organization that promotes smaller government. He says it the cuts leave nothing to fear.

CLANCY: Arguing that getting spending under control endangers public health and safety is a really irresponsible scare tactic, especially when you realize these aren't real cuts. These are reductions from anticipated increases in spending.

WOLDROP: To cut the budget for the work these agencies do, it will significantly impact them today and tomorrow.

TRESSA BENNETT: You made that one, didn't you?

SCHMIDT: Tressa Bennett and her kids are now healthy and food safety advocates.

TRESSA BENNETT: Remember, we all have to eat.

SCHMIDT: They say nobody should have to fear what they eat.


BANFIELD: That was Emily Schmidt reporting.

The fiscal cliff is a pretty confusing topic for a lot of people, just how it affects you and your family. We want to give you the chance to ask our personal money experts. Our team, Ali Velshi and Christine Romans, will take specific questions from you about how the fiscal cliff impacts you and your family and your business. Send me your questions on Twitter, @CNNAshleigh, all this week. Christine and Ali will be here to answer questions directly and give you all the information you need. Once again, @CNNAshleigh. Tweet me.


BANFIELD: A line of severe weather is bringing rain and nightmares for the airports. The cancellations are across the southeast, and it's the same storm system that dropped down a couple of tornadoes as well. And that's when things get ugly.

Chad Myers is here with some of the details.

First, about the tornadoes, does anybody still have to be worried?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, absolutely, from Montgomery to almost New Orleans with tornado watches. We have a couple of warnings in effect as well. Remember, the warning word has more letters, and therefore it's more important. It's the bad one. When you hear "warning" that's the bad one. Tornado warning is worse than a watch. "Watch" just means, hey, something could happen today.

Let me show you what happened over the weekend with the same system on the north side. It's not breaking news when we show you snow in Wisconsin, but this has been a very dry beginning of the snow season up there. They can really use the snow cover, and also, they want to play in it. The people in the south -- they want snow to go away. People up north, they want to play because they have all the toys. Down south, not expecting this in Dallas, Texas, this morning. OK, so it wasn't really sticking but it was blowing around. You can see it in the lights. WFAA is a pretty sight there. Maybe getting you in the mood to buy gloves for your next Christmas present.

BANFIELD: That's Denton, Texas, right?


MYERS: Denton. Don't mess with Texas. Yes.

BANFIELD: Wow. I used to live in north Texas, and I know when it snows the whole world shuts down. It's a big deal when it snows in north Texas.

Tell me about Minnesota. You showed Wisconsin pictures, which were beautiful. Minnesota knows snow as well. Boy, did they get dumped on.

MYERS: Over a foot of snow in so many spots. That's great, because I grew up in Buffalo. If we didn't get six inches of snow by morning, school was not canceled. You still had to go. The buses ran way or another.

BANFIELD: I'm from Canada and never heard of a snow day. Never heard of a snow day. You literally have to --


There has been to be a complete one dropping over Canada before a snow day, and anyone goes to school. We had such huge equipment.


BANFIELD: Overnight everything is gone. You wake up and the streets are all cleared and budgets are still there.

MYERS: And nobody's in trouble. The mayors are still employed, right?


MYERS: Yes, exactly.

Let's get back to the severe weather for a second, because all this cold air and snow is pushing into some warm air. If you walk outside in Atlanta, it's warm. Panama City, very warm. The same cold air pushing into the warm air here. We will see thunderstorms, maybe some still rotating. Still tornadoes possible today into the rest of the afternoon.

We'll keep you advised if anybody drops to the ground -- Ashleigh?

BANFIELD: Chad, thank you. Appreciate that.

You know we're going to track that storm all day long and all afternoon, too, so make sure you stay tuned to CNN. We'll let you know when things change.

I have another story I want to bring to you from the courts, shall we say. That legal saga of Dominique Strauss-Kahn could come to an end. Finished. Done with in New York. This man is the former chief of the International Monetary Fund and he was accused of sexually assaulting a hotel maid last year in New York City. The lawyers for him and the lawyers for the maid are supposed to be getting together in court at 2:00 p m. today in New York. It's amid reports he's going to settle with her. The fallout from that scandal is irreparable. It forced him to resign as chief of the IMF, for one, and then it decimated his hopes of running for president in France, last time around anyway.

So now different stage, a little bit lighter, shall we say. The president getting to meet this man in the adorable holiday sweater. That's Psy, South Korean pop star with the awesome video. The president did not attempt to do "Gangnam Style" dancing. But the two did have a chance to chat during the Christmas in Washington concert yesterday. You can see the photos to prove it. The Secret Service is there as well. While Psy is great at this, we do not know if the president can. But he was bold enough to suggest that he thinks he can.

Mr. President, we are waiting. If Simpson can do it, you can, too.

All right, thanks, everybody.

By the way, I should let you know what the real reason was for that meeting. He apologized on Friday for an anti-American rap performance he did eight years ago. Had the chance to say so face to face with the president.

Now, I'm finished.

Thanks everyone for watching.