Obama's Untenable Position on Same-Sex Marriage

Oh, good old Joe. The vice president just can’t help himself sometimes, getting juiced up and spouting off whatever comes to his mind rather than staying on message like the Obama campaign would prefer. On yesterday’s Meet the Press, Biden was questioned about his stance on same-sex marriage and seemingly went a step further than the official White House line, perhaps not endorsing marriage equality directly but coming pretty close:

David Gregory: You’re comfortable with same-sex marriage now?

Biden: Look, I am Vice President of the United States of America. The president sets the policy. I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men marrying women 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 that’s not the official policy of the Obama campaign, so officials acted quick to walk back Biden’s statement. But the administration’s tiptoeing around the issue has reached an absurd degree. It was immediately undercut Monday morning when Education Secretary Arne Duncan endorsed marriage equality during an interview on MSNBC.

The official line remains that the president is “evolving” on same-sex marriage, a wishy-washy middle ground where he supports states with marriage equality yet opposes any similar policy at a national level. The intellectual contradictions are beginning to break at the seams. His state campaigns officially oppose constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota and North Carolina, but when Obama campaigned in North Carolina last week he made no mention of the ballot measure even though the vote is scheduled for this week. His Justice Department no longer opts to defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act in the courts (leaving that task to a lawyer hired by John Boehner), yet Obama has spent little political investment pushing Congress to repeal the policy, instead crossing his fingers that the courts will solve the problem without needing to explicitly tie himself to any measure changing the law.

At the same time, his cabinet officials are increasingly willing to step forward, and not just in the half-equivocating statements from Biden on Sunday. Duncan is not the first high-ranking member of the Obama administration to directly support marriage equality. That distinction belongs to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovon, who last year became the first sitting cabinet official to support same-sex marriage rights. And Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was a prominent advocate for New York’s marriage equality bill last year.

It’s long been suggested that Obama’s opposition to same-sex marriage rights is nothing more than political hypocrisy, and that he's just aligning himself with the easy position so as not to alienate conservative and moderate voters during his first presidential campaign. After all, Obama once expressed his support for marriage equality as a Illinois state candidate in 1996, a time when far fewer Americans shared that view. It’s inevitable that Obama will one day complete his public evolution and return to his early position; the only question is if he proudly joins his cabinet’s views before the 2012 election or if it becomes a side note to his later career.

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