On Friday, Vice President Joe Biden taped an interview with Meet The Press, in which he endorsed same-sex marriage and admitted to host David Gregory that he is “absolutely comfortable with…men marrying men, women marrying women.”
The comments came just as the LGBT community had grown frustrated with President Obama’s alleged evolution toward supporting marriage equality and admonished the administration for failing to issue an executive order that would have prohibited employers who contract with the federal government from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
But rather than finally confronting those who oppose granting gay and lesbian people all of the same legal rights and protections of their heterosexual counterparts and embracing Biden’s remarks, the White House and the campaign — after two days of considering their response — settled on pretending they didn’t happen. After the segment aired Sunday morning, administration officials hurriedly tweeted that Biden’s position was consistant with Obama’s. They said that had not endorsed full equality after all and implied that his claim that gays are “entitled to the same exact rights” apparently didn’t extend to marriage. The message beecame even more confused after one official told NBC’s Chuck Todd that Biden was only speaking for “himself” on the issue:
– HE WAS ONLY SPEAKING FOR HIMSELF: As NBC’s Chuck Todd revealed following Biden’t interview, “the Vice President’s office reached out to me to say, yes we know the vice president was speaking about himself. He is not speaking speaking for the administration. And they pointed out like the president he is evolving on this issue.”
– HE DID NOT ENDORSE MARRIAGE: David Axelrod tweeted, “@chucktodd @meetthepress What VP said-that all married couples should have exactly the same legal rights-is precisely POTUS’s position.”
– HE IS STILL EVOLVING ON MARRIAGE: “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. 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.
And so the joy that LGBT advocate groups felt upon hearing Biden’s remarks turned to confusion. The Center for American Progress’ Winnie Stachelberg noted that while “We commend Vice President Biden for supporting marriage equality and call on President Obama to do the same. The campaign shouldn’t force Biden’s comments back into the closet, but should instead embrace the growing popular support for the freedom to marry.” Obama aides have previously sought to squash the perception that members of the administration are more supportive of the LGBT community than the president and have walked back the remarks of Michelle Obama and Melody Barnes .
The Human Rights Campaign’s incoming president Chad Griffin, however, noted that Biden’s remarks — and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s surprise embrace of same-sex marriage Monday morning — presented the administration with an opportunity. Griffin asked, “Is there even a question?” that Biden has evolved in his thinking, and added: “His words speak for themselves — and they send an incredibly important message outside Washington to the young LGBT teenager hearing the vice president of the United States talk about his belief in marriage equality and the fact that he or she can grow up and have the same dreams and aspirations as their friends, their colleagues, their parents.”
For a president seeking to reconnect with young people and reclaim the spark of 2008, this sounds like a message worth embracing.