Two prominent members of President Barack Obama’s administration have made forceful and highly public declarations of their support for marriage equality and legalizing gay marriage, placing the White House in an embarrassing position and highlighting the deep divide between the LGBT community and the president.
Among the myriad issues where President Obama has let down the progressive community, his steadfast refusal to join the national debate over marriage equality has infuriated gay rights activists and disappointed many in his own Democratic Party that overwhelmingly supports the legalization of gay marriage.
Across the nation, the issue of gay marriage has consistently taken a back seat to more high-profile items like the economy and foreign policy, but as the November election approaches, the base of support the Obama reelection team is counting on has become more vocal in their desire for the president to take a firm in favor of same-sex marriage as new threats to LGBT rights pop up across America.
Over the weekend, Vice President Joe Biden delivered the most aggressive language yet from the administration backing gay marriage and voicing support for marriage equality — a sentiment many had hoped to hear directly from President Obama.
Biden told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he was “absolutely comfortable” with same-sex marriage and hinted that the president may soon be prepared to join him in this position.
Vice President Joe Biden gave a nod to same-sex marriage Sunday by saying he is comfortable with the idea of “men marrying men” and “women marrying women” having the same rights as heterosexual couples.
In an interview on “Meet the Press,” Biden declined to rule out the possibility that, in a second term, President Obama might move from his position of supporting civil unions to backing same-sex marriage.
Biden prefaced his comments with the caveat that the president sets administration policy, and then said: “I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying one another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties.
The vice-president’s remarks could be considered a watershed moment for this administration — while the White House had consistently supported efforts to ban discrimination against gays and lesbians, no prominent official had ever specifically stated public support for gay marriage.
And only a day after Biden’s comments, Education Secretary Arne Duncan followed suit and agreed that “gay couples should be allowed to marry.”
Education Secretary Arne Duncan made his position clear on Monday morning, one day after Vice President Joe Biden made waves by declaring that he is “absolutely comfortable” with gay marriage.
While on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Monday, Duncan was asked directly whether he thinks gay couples should be able to marry. His response: “Yes, I do.” Duncan added that he’d never before been asked that question publicly.
With two significant members of his administration offering public backing of gay marriage and marriage equality — including his own vice-president — pressure has increased dramatically on President Obama to more clearly state his own personal feelings concerning the gay marriage debate and whether the words of Biden and Duncan reflect the president’s views.
Prersident Obama has been met with howls of outrage and derision from the gay rights community over his silence on the issue and for refusing to stand with his own cabinet in backing marriage rights. The White House has faced an immediate backlash for failing to adequately explain the president’s position even as they seek support from the LGBT community for Obama’s reelection campaign.
With no official declaration of support for the vice-president’s words, many activists are wondering whether the White House is signaling that they intend to oppose any efforts to legalize gay marriage.
Taking a remarkably cavalier view of an issue many Democrats and progressives see as a question of basic civil rights, Obama aides and supporters are expressing disappointment that gay marriage has become a campaign issue again, explaining that they had the “best of both worlds” prior to Biden’s comments and that continuing to dodge a formal position on marriage equality allowed them not to “rock the boat” before the November election.
“They had the best of both worlds going up until this weekend where they didn’t have to rock the boat of actually coming out for it. The gay community was fully happy in their belief that he ‘wink, wink’ supported it,” a top Democratic communications strategist said. “Now, in their efforts to contain the [Joe] Biden fallout, they seem to be digging in against gay marriage, emphasizing how they are not for it. That is the opposite of what they have successfully been doing all along.”
The controversy over the president’s reluctance to endorse his vice=president’s position in fully backing gay marriage rights reflects the overall concern among the gay rights community over Obama’s personal feelings on the issue. This is not the first time that Barack Obama has taken heat over his perceived waffling on gay rights or outright hostility to same-sex marriage.
Ever since taking office, the White House has drawn fire for repeatedly explaining President Obama’s position on gay marriage as “evolving.” Obama supporters point to achievements in his first term like ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and making various strides in combating discrimination against gay Americans. But outright endorsement of gay marriage has never been among his priorities.
Confusion over just where Obama’s stance on gay marriage is “evolving” from and where its going have persisted since even before he was elected to the presidency. Obama’s position when he first ran for state office in 1996 was strong support for legalizing gay marriage.
But in an infamous 2004 video, then-Senate candidate Obama said that his “religious faith” told him marriage was strictly between a man and a woman,and that gay marriage was not a “civil right.”
Combined with Obama’s own personal history and track record of dodging the question of gay marriage, the new controversy following Vice President Biden’s comments threatens to stir even greater anger among the LGBT community and the supporters Obama has left among that group. If the White House really is taking gay support for granted, they may be shocked to learn that the recent string of gaffes is causing a backlash against the president.
Numbers show that 1 in 6 of the big-money “bundlers” used to such great financial effect by President Obama’s campaign is gay. Those financial backers are now threatening to use their prominent positions to punish Obama for his weak record on gay rights and failure to support marriage equality. Many gay Obama donors are now plotting to withhold their money from his campaign over these and other issues.
The idea that these supporters could flee to President Obama’s Republican presidential opponent, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, is almost impossible to believe. Romney has a checkered history with gay rights, backing civil unions and voicing some support for legalizing gay marriage while Massachusetts governor, but quickly adopting a conservative position of virtually no acknowledgement of LGBT rights whatsoever since declaring his bid for the presidency.
Romney and the GOP are also in their own significant controversy over gay rights, with the Romney campaign under fire even from some within the GOP for letting go an openly gay adviser after complaints from religious anti-gay organizations.
Such anti-gay sentiment is still a significant force in American politics, with the latest blow to gay rights coming in North Carolina yesterday. Voters there approved a sweeping and bitterly controversial amendment banning gay marriage and all forms of domestic partnerships – gay civil unions as well as legal recognition of partnerships among heterosexual couples.
President Obama immediately released a statement saying that he is “disappointed” with the North Carolina vote. But gay activists are outraged that the president’s reelection team canceled a planned campaign trip to the Tar Heel State the day before the gay marriage vote took place.
As the president hesitates on gay rights and more “red states” shut the door on same-sex marriage, national public opinion polls continue to show broad support for legalizing gay marriage among ordinary Americans.
A new Gallup poll finds that for the second consecutive year, more than 50 percent of Americans say they support gay marriage and believe that it should be legal. More important politically, almost 60 percent of independent voters say they support legalizing gay marriage, their personal beliefs on this issue “evolving” at a faster pace than the president seeking to gain their votes this November.
Fifty percent of Americans believe same-sex marriages should be recognized by law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages — down slightly from 53% last year, but marking only the second time in Gallup’s history of tracking this question that at least half of Americans have supported legal same-sex marriage. Forty-eight percent say such marriages should not be legal.
These results — based on Gallup’s annual Values and Beliefs poll, conducted May 3-6 — come at a time when Vice President Joe Biden’s remarks on “Meet the Press” Sunday have at least temporarily brought the issue of same-sex marriage back into the news spotlight. Biden said he was “absolutely comfortable” with the idea that same-sex couples and heterosexual couples are “entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties.” President Obama, however, has stopped short of saying that he favors legalizing same-sex marriage.
Last’s year’s Values and Beliefs survey marked the first time in Gallup’s history of tracking this issue that a majority favored legalization. Prior to last year, the highest level of support had been 46%, measured in 2007. In 1996, when Gallup first asked the question, 27% supported it, while 68% were opposed.
Speaking with ABC News on Wednesday, President Obama announced that his feelings towards same-sex marriage had stopped “evolving” and he formally endorsed marriage equality for gays and lesbians. “I think same sex couples should be able to get married,” Obama told Robin Roberts in an interview.