May 7th, 2012
03:10 PM ET
2 years ago

White House downplays Biden's same-sex marriage remarks

(CNN) - White House Press Secretary Jay Carney faced questions over the president's position on same-sex marriage Monday, after some in the Obama administration –including Vice President Joe Biden - expressed support for the issue in the last two days.

Biden, Carney argued, was not voicing a new White House position when he said Sunday he was "absolutely comfortable" with two individuals of the same gender getting legally married.

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"What the vice president said yesterday was to make the same point the president has made 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 roll back those rights," Carney said in the White House press briefing.

On NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday, Biden gave an impassioned answer on what he sees as a changing, more inclusive shift in American culture to the LGBT community, going further in stating his views than President Barack Obama has in the past.

The president, who once opposed same-sex marriage, has taken the official position that his stance on the issue is "evolving." He has hinted at fundraisers, however, that there is more work to be done, leading many in the LGBT community to believe the president may work to legalize same-sex marriage on the national level under a second term.

Some on Twitter seized on the vice president's words Sunday to question whether the White House was signaling a change in position on the issue ahead of the election.

But Carney on Monday shot down the idea, saying Biden's words mirrored –not advanced– the president's position. He also pointed to the administration's work in repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and its decision to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act as examples of the president's policies toward LGBT rights.

"I think you have heard him say, and those in the administration like myself who speak for him, that he strongly opposes efforts to restrict rights to repeal rights for same sex couples," Carney said.

Pressed on the Obama's position, Carney said he has "no update on the president's personal views" but referenced that Obama has previously said his stance was "evolving."

Also weighing in Monday, senior Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod said Biden's comment did not represent a change in policy for the administration. He expressed a similar sentiment Sunday via Twitter.

"I think they were entirely consistent with the president's position," Axelrod said on a conference call with reporters. "A couple who are married, whether they're gay or heterosexual, are entitled to the same rights and very same liberties."

Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Monday also made headlines when he openly backed same-sex marriage rights.

Asked on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," if he supports individuals of the same gender to legally wed, Duncan replied: "Yes, I do."

"I don't think I've ever been asked publicly," Duncan said.

Adding to the mix, Obama campaign co-chair Caroline Kennedy released a statement Monday in favor of a plank for same-sex marriage rights as part of the Democratic National Convention's platform later this year.

The proposal, however, has caused division within the party. While Convention Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa has sided with the idea, Carney said Monday "it's a platform that hasn't been developed" and deferred further questions to the Democratic National Committee.

Kennedy, who also served as a co-chair on Obama's 2008 vice presidential search committee, pushed Monday for the party to officially include same-sex marriage rights in its platform.

"There are few things in life more important than being able to marry and build a family with the person you love. This fundamental right should be available to all Americans, including gay and lesbian couples," Kennedy said in a statement released by Freedom to Marry, an advocacy group.

According to the latest CNN/ORC International Poll, a majority of Americans (53%) believe marriages between gay or lesbian couples should be recognized as valid, while 45% disagree with the notion.

The issue is also making news this week in North Carolina, where voters will cast their ballots Tuesday on an initiative that would add a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and partnerships.

High-profile figures have added their voices to the debate. Evangelist Billy Graham made a rare public statement endorsing the measure, while former President Bill Clinton, who used to oppose same-sex marriage, recorded robo calls to half a million voters urging them to vote against the initiative.

Freedom to Marry quickly put out a statement Monday on Duncan's comments.

"Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's announcement this morning adds him to the drumbeat of Obama Administration members coming out in support of the freedom to marry for same-sex couples," the group's founder, Evan Wolfson, said in a statement

He also pointed to Biden, Clinton, former Vice Presidents Gore and Cheney, as well as Laura Bush, as examples of high-profile Democrats and Republicans in support of same-sex marriage.

"Secretary Duncan knows that loving and committed gay couples seek the freedom to marry for the same mix of reasons as other couples: to make a vow to one another, to share life with the person they love, and to protect their families," Wolfson said.

Obama's North Carolina campaign spokesperson Cameron French put out a release in mid-March, stating the president's opposition to the proposed amendment.

“While the President does not weigh in on every single ballot measure in every state, the record is clear that the President has long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same sex couples," French said. "That’s what the North Carolina ballot initiative would do – it would single out and discriminate against committed gay and lesbian couples – and that’s why the President does not support it.”

– CNN's Jessica Yellin, Ashley Killough and Gabriella Schwarz contributed to this report.

Also see:

Romney adviser left after being silenced, source says

Ayotte: I'm more qualified than Obama

Gingrich steps up support for Romney, predicts Mourdock wins in Indiana


Filed under: 2012 • Arne Duncan • Joe Biden • President Obama • Same-sex marriage
soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    The question should be is this a state issue or federal issue. That I can't tell you, but it will come to a point when it comes to a court. You really have to wonder which court would it get to first, a high level state court or a low to medium federal court.

    May 7, 2012 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  2. ThinkAgain

    If all these red state opponents to same-sex marriage would put half as much energy as they do into opposing gay marriage as into educating their people and doing something about their above-average divorce, unwed motherhood and teenage pregnancy rates, then maybe they'd be happier all around.

    May 7, 2012 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  3. frank

    Howcome Bishop Romney is so Scarred about going on Meet The press to talk about this & other Issues. What an absolute Coward. You Mitt, Lose the Pink Skirt. Having a Town Hall Meeting & getting asked Handpicked Questions from Handpicked Individuals doesnt cut. Gutless, Heartlees, Spineless, Soulless!!!!!!

    May 7, 2012 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  4. Jake

    gentlemen speaking from the heart! and it's much appreciated! it's time to set up a stark contrast to the GOP's views because the majority of Americans will follow the Democrats!

    May 7, 2012 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  5. ShawnDH

    I'd like to welcome members of the Obama Administration to the civilized world and back to real American values that defend "LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL." It really highlights how backwards the GOP is.

    May 7, 2012 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  6. Ethics Board

    The fact that all of this is news just shows how screwed up politics are. What people do in their own bedroom has nothing to do with poltics... or it least it shouldn't.

    May 7, 2012 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  7. hamsta

    Great now they have the department of education pushing for gay marriage.good thing i dont have kids.now they are going to educate kids in sodomy.

    May 7, 2012 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  8. Fair is Fair

    "The question should be is this a state issue or federal issue."
    --------
    Since I cannot find a single word relating to marriage in the constitution, I'd say it's clearly a state issue.

    May 7, 2012 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  9. Democrat Class Warfare - Destroying the economy, destroying the country

    Obama doesn't support gay marriage because it would cost him too many votes of black voters. Rest assured, if Obama saw ANY advantage in doing this, he would have done it long ago. He's getting desperate.

    May 7, 2012 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  10. Sniffit

    "The question should be is this a state issue or federal issue."

    It's both. Both state and federal taxes give benefits to married couples, no matter what institution married them, and a whole host of other issues and laws play on both sides of the state-v-federak fence. In the end though, it comes down to the states having to obey the federal Constitution, as they agreed to do when this country was formed, not to mention the 14th Amendment. They don't get to create they're own little private discriminatory utopia such that "equal" means something different in one state than another. They can scream and rage and curse their ancestors for signing onto the Constitution all they want, but it's coming for their hate eventually.

    May 7, 2012 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  11. Fair is Fair

    Obama says his views on gay marriage are "evolving".

    So does this mean his views are slowly flip-flopping?

    May 7, 2012 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  12. Sniffit

    "I could care less one way or another... but what's the sense of belonging to a religion if you're not going to follow it's tenets?"

    I dunno. Ask Paul Ryan and his Pathology of Plutocracy budget, with its repeal and replace of Medicare with the Couponcare Crapshoot. He seems to have the answer to that one for sure....and if you doubt it, I'm pretty sure the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will help clue you in on his "thinly veiled social darwinism." Or hey, maybe you can find one of the faculty at Georgetown University who attended Paul's rebuttal, in which he quite literally claimed that people can differ from the official positions of the Catholic church whenever they want. Now, run along...you've got a lot of learning to do today.

    May 7, 2012 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  13. Sniffit

    "Obama says his views on gay marriage are "evolving".

    So does this mean his views are slowly flip-flopping?"
    ===

    The accusation would work if Obama hadn't been saying he's got an open mind on it and that his views were "evolving" for the past several years. "Flip-flopping" really only works as an accusation when you have someone taking a hard position at one point then suddenly taking the contrary position later without any intervening soul-searching, no warning, no indication of changing perceptions and feelings, etc. Sort of like someone writing a letter in 2009 urging a president to adopt federal legislation using the model of his own state legislation but then attacking him 3 years later for having done so.

    May 7, 2012 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  14. fred ca

    Hmmm...this is the guy obama brought in from Chicago as the 'best Education Leader ever'. Of course the academic standards were nose-diving and kids were being killed going to and from school. The system was so bad that obama had to spend $60,000 a year to keep his kids out of those schools and so could not afford the 'luxury' of one of the parents staying home. I now understand why he was chosen. He is a perfect democrat spinner. Oh look, there's a pony over there and it's holding a shiny object. Gay marriage, no matter how you feel about it (I am in the don't give a ...category) has nothing to do with the alleged Education department. Do your job for a change and don't try to mask your failure with distractions...

    Oh, sorry I forget, the holy mantra of this administration is failure followed by distraction is 'cool'.

    May 7, 2012 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  15. demwit

    Is this an election issue? Really!??

    May 7, 2012 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  16. Larry L

    Those who profess to want "small government" also want to impose their version of morality on our people. Why not just make all marriages sanctioned by the government civil contracts to ensure the rights of adults who want to share their lives as a couple? The government would not recognize, control or sanction marriages conducted by religious entities – separating church and state. Churches could refuse to conduct ceremonies for anybody they choose and couples could "shop" for the church that supportes their beliefs. Those who marry under the government contract would use that certification for all aspects of law, including property ownership, inheritance, healthcare, responsibility for dependents, and taxation. Why is this hard?

    May 7, 2012 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  17. Democrat Class Warfare - Destroying the economy, destroying the country

    If gays can marry then it neeeds to be completely opened up to polygamist marriages and people/animal unions. There should be NO denying happiness for anybody no matter how they get it.

    May 7, 2012 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  18. Dan J

    Duncan is the education secretary. Why is he even being asked this question>

    May 7, 2012 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  19. Jerry

    Mr. Duncan, just do the job that you were hired and highly paid for. You were hired to improve education (which you have had no success at), rather than being Mr. Obama's mouthpiece. Enough said!!!

    NOTE TO CNN: It looks like the Mr. Obama paid screeners are in full force at CNN today. Go CNN!

    May 7, 2012 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  20. You heard it worst on CNN

    This just shows Obama will flip flop for votes. In 08 the gay community was almost entirely behind Hillary. Obama is trying desperately to apeal to new demographs he failed to reach in 08 as the many he did reach in 08 won't support him now. Obama did nothing for immigration reform in his four years as president. Something that could easily be fixed if he bothered to try. The Hispanic voters aren't stupid. All the promises he made in 08 are coming back to haunt him now because he failed on all of them. The American people want to see results, not empty promises and blame games. I think the gay community is smart enough to know that this is a states issue and the president is just sucking up to them now because he needs every vote he can get.

    May 7, 2012 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  21. B.

    We forget that it is -Freedom for All and not just the Evangelicals!

    May 7, 2012 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  22. PaulCat

    Who gave us the right to tell someone whom they can or cannot marry? If It's that easy, I'm telling everyone who to vote for president, and it's the law.

    May 7, 2012 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  23. Ron in California

    This is part of a strategy to move the message forward as a campaign issue without making Obama commit. It appeases the gays and doesn't alienate the independents.

    May 7, 2012 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  24. trex

    ........Me, my wife, and OUR MARRAGE are NOT scared of gays and lesbians. Why do the gay and lesbians scare the RADICAL RIGHT's marrages?

    May 7, 2012 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  25. Biotechdev

    Same sex marriage is great, Can just ONCE Obama talk about the ECONOMY????? What are his plans?????

    May 7, 2012 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
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