Do the Right Thing

Yesterday, on Meet the Press, Vice President Joe Biden was unusually candid about his feelings on same-sex marriage:

“And you’re comfortable with same-sex marriage now,” NBC’s David Gregory asked Biden on Meet the Press.

“I am vice president of the United States of America. The president sets the policy,” Biden said by way of a disclaimer, then continued, “I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying 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.”

Almost immediately, this was reported as an endorsement of same-sex marriage by Vice President Biden, which in turn was followed by White House attempts to nix the perception. On Twitter, for example, David Axelrod issued an odd clarifying statement, “What VP said-that all married couples should have exactly the same legal rights-is precisely POTUS’s position.” Despite this, as Pema Levy reported for Talking Points Memo, gay rights groups took the vice president’s words as a sign that the administration might endorse same-sex marriage before the election. Indeed, almost no one inside the Beltway believes that President Obama is sincere about his “evolving” position on same-sex marriage. The conventional wisdom is that it’s only a matter of time before he outs himself as a supporter.

At this point, I don’t see any reason for why Obama shouldn’t come out in support of same-sex marriage. Support for gay marriage has been on the upswing since Obama entered office. Two years ago, only 40 percent of Americans supported same-sex marriage. In the last year, according to Gallup, that number has grown to 53 percent:

With the exception of conservatives, support is broad-based. 78 percent of liberals and 65 percent of moderates support same-sex marriage, compared to 25 percent of conservatives. If you take a partisan lens to the issue, the numbers look roughly the same; 69 percent of Democrats, 59 percent of independents, and 28 percent of Republicans support gay marriage.

Three years ago, Obama could plausibly say that he was holding off for political reasons. Today, he has no excuse. Not only would he have the support of Democrats and independents, but he would energize his more liberal supporters. Indeed, I doubt this would do anything to harm his electoral coalition; African Americans might be less than enthused about same-sex marriage, but as an issue, it’s low on their list of priorities. That Obama stands for their economic interests—and is the most visible member of their community—is enough to ensure their support. Likewise, there is a large amount of overlap between “voters who oppose Obama” and “voters who oppose same-sex marriage.”

Simply put, the president has little to lose and much to gain from making the right choice. Hopefully, he goes for it.