Metro Weekly

News Analysis: Through the Obama Administration’s Marriage Equality Looking-Glass

This morning, on Meet the Press, Vice President Joseph Biden was asked about marriage equality — and opened another day of debate about which words mean what that takes everyone down the rabbit hole to Obama’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Screen shot 2012-05-06 at 1.15.11 PM.pngBiden told host David Gregory, “The good news is that as more and more Americans come to understand what this is all about is a simple proposition. Who do you love? Who do you love and will you be loyal to the person you love? And that’s what people are finding out is what all marriages at their root are about. Whether they’re marriages of lesbians or gay men or heterosexuals.”

That prompted Gregory to follow-up more directly. “Is that what you believe now?”

Biden: “That’s what I believe.”

Gregory: “And you’re comfortable with same-sex marriage now?”

Here, Biden pivots to talking about the administration while restating a personal comfort level.

“Look, I am vice president of the United States of America. The president sets the policy,” Biden 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. And quite frankly, I don’t see much of a distinction beyond that.”


Of course, Obama himself has made it clear that he is comfortable with men marrying men and women marrying women. He thought New York’s marriage equality outcome was a “good thing”; he’s recognized married gay couples both as a group at the LGBT Pride Month reception at the White House and on an individual basis.

Nontheless, asked if the administration would push for marriage equality in a second term, however, Biden told Gregory today, “I can’t speak to that.”

The Meet the Press exchange led Freedom to Marry’s president, Evan Wolfson, to send out lavish praise.

“I’ve known Vice President Biden since interning for him in the Senate in 1976. The personal and thoughtful way he has spoken about his coming to support the freedom to marry reflects the same journey that a majority of Americans have now made as they’ve gotten to know gay families, opened their hearts and changed their minds,” he said in a statement. “President Obama should join the Vice President, former Presidents Clinton and Carter, former Vice Presidents Gore and Cheney, Laura Bush, and so many others in forthright support for the freedom to marry.”

Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese was more ambiguous about what Biden had said in his praise, saying in a statement, “We are encouraged by Vice President Biden’s comments, who rightly articulated that loving and committed gay and lesbian couples should be treated equally. Now is the time for President Obama to speak out for full marriage equality for same-sex couples.”

Then, the clarifications began — and the world saw the interview through the Obama administration’s marriage equality looking-glass.

Initially, NBC News’s Chuck Todd tweeted, “VP Biden on @meetthepress indicates he’s comfortable with gay marriage. Going farther publicly than POTUS,” and then: “Biden’s office tells me he was speaking for his own evolving on marriage not for the admin.”

David Axelrod, communications director with Obama’s re-election campaign, quickly shot back: “What VP said-that all married couples should have exactly the same legal rights-is precisely POTUS’s position.”

A spokesperson with the vice president’s office also tells Metro Weekly the same thing, but then went slightly further — adding in a note suggesting that the vice president has not reached a position of supporting full marriage equality.

“The Vice President was saying what the President has said previously — that committed and loving same-sex couples deserve the same rights and protections enjoyed by all Americans, and that we oppose any effort to rollback those rights,” the spokeserson said. “That’s why we stopped defending the constitutionality of section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act in legal challenges and support legislation to repeal it.

“Beyond that, the Vice President was expressing that he too is evolving on the issue, after meeting so many committed couples and families in this country.”

It’s there that the unworkable nature of the administration’s position is, once again, made clear. 

As when First Lady Michelle Obama’s comments about the Supreme Court in coming years having an impact on “whether we can … love whomever we choose” led to acrobatics from White House press secretary Jay Carney — who claimed the comments were merely a reference to the president’s position opposing the Defense of Marriage Act — these comments show that the administration’s leaders are comfortable with marriage equality. And that includes President Obama himself.

The attempted distinction, to which the administration appears desperately to be clinging, is that there is a difference between being comfortable with marriage equality and supporting it.

It is as if the administration wants to be on record not opposing marriage equality — while at the same time not actually supporting it, either.

But, the vice president did support it.

Biden told Gregory that he believes all marriages, “of lesbians or gay men or heterosexuals,” are, at their root, about love.

To claim that the man who said that is still “evolving on this issue,” as Biden’s office is trying to do, is — as with the first lady’s comments in March — only possible by taking an adventure into Wonderland.

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