It still amazes me the degree to which the Obama White House, led by a president who promised to be a “fierce advocate” for gay rights, ties itself in knots every time someone close to the president says something even vaguely positive about gay marriage.
This past Sunday, it happened again. Vice President Joe Biden, on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” gave what appeared to be a heartfelt endorsement of gay marriage, only to be slapped down hours later by senior White House adviser David Axelrod. Axelrod claimed that Biden did not endorse gay marriage, but that Biden shared the president’s view that “couples who are married, whether they are gay or heterosexual couples, are entitled to the very same rights and very same liberties.”
But that’s a nuance without a difference: Gay couples can’t get nearly 1,100 of those “same legal rights” without a marriage that the president opposes.
Biden credited the hit TV show “Will & Grace” for helping change the public’s minds on gay rights, including gay marriage. But the show appears to have had the opposite effect on Barack Obama.
Back in 1996, when Obama was running for the Illinois state Senate, he filled out two questionnaires averring his support for marriage equality. But a few years later, while contemplating federal office (smack dab in the middle of “Will & Grace’s” eight-year run), Obama recanted his earlier support for gay marriage. Many, understandably, saw the move as political opportunism.
Fast forward to 2010. In an interview with AMERICAblog’s Joe Sudbay, the president said that his position on same-sex marriage was now “evolving” (after having devolved the previous 14 years). But in the two years since that interview, there’s been no evidence that the president has moved even a single inch on his new-found opposition to let gay and lesbian couples marry the one they love. That’s why Biden’s statement was so important—it was clear evidence of Oval Office evolution. And that’s why the White House’s panicked denials are so crushing to many gay voters.
It seems like someone in the White House has convinced the president that gay marriage is an election-year loser. The problem for the president is that conservatives already think he’s for gay marriage, regardless of what he says, and Democrats know he is. No one believes the verbal contortions. All they serve to do is offend a key Democratic constituency in the lead up to an important national election.
If anyone in the White House thinks they can pocket-veto this issue into obscurity until after November, they’re going to be sadly surprised come early September. In the middle of the Democratic convention, the party will decide on repeated requests from senior Democrats to include marriage equality in the party platform. No matter what they decide, it will make news, and same-sex marriage will yet again steal the news cycle from a president who’d rather focus on anything else eight weeks before we go to the polls.
But there’s a way for President Obama to avoid all of that. He can evolve already, and come out for gay marriage now.