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Education Secretary Arne Duncan endorses gay marriage. Is Obama cornered? (+video)

Now, both Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary Duncan have spoken up for gay marriage, but Obama is holding back. That could be a political calculation, but gay activists are frustrated.

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Still, the one-two punch of Biden’s and Duncan’s comments has aimed the spotlight fully on Obama’s resistance to a full endorsement of gay marriage. It’s possible, some analysts suggest, that Obama is genuinely uncomfortable with the concept. But there’s a wider assumption that he’s holding back for political reasons, even as more states legalize it and polls show steady growth in public support, now at a solid majority.

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In all, seven states and the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage. The sticking point for Obama may be resistance in some battleground states, including North Carolina. On Tuesday, voters there face a ballot measure to ban same-sex marriage. Other key states, such as Virginia and Ohio, have significant populations of Christian conservatives, who could become energized by an Obama endorsement of gay marriage – especially given their tepid support for Romney.

It’s also possible that swing voters in battleground states could be a bit more conservative on social issues than voters in solidly Democratic states. Another concern could be minority voters. Obama likely has little to worry about with black voters, despite some resistance to gay marriage, especially among older African Americans. The Hispanic vote – a major battleground demographic in November – could be another cause for caution.

But on the plus side for Obama, open support for gay marriage would help energize his own base. Many in the gay community have grown frustrated with his resistance, especially as they have donated, and in some cases, held high-dollar fundraisers, to support his reelection. In Biden’s remarks on Sunday, the vice president spoke of attending a fundraiser at the home a gay couple in Los Angeles, and meeting their young children – and how he told the parents he wished “every American could see the look of love your kids had in their eyes for you guys.”

Biden’s statement on Sunday was striking, not only because it went beyond anything Obama had ever said, but because he is a generation older than the president. Polls show senior citizens are less comfortable with gay marriage than younger generations. Biden didn’t just state his support in a cursory way. He expounded.

“I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men and women marrying one another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties,” Biden said.

He added that it’s the president who sets policy. (The previous White House also featured a vice president, Dick Cheney, who supported gay marriage while the president did not.)

If Obama does decide to come out in support of gay marriage before November, he should do it soon, says Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

“It certainly could energize Christian conservatives to the extent that they are still a little bit depressed over Romney’s nomination,” Mr. Jillson says. “But my sense is that they are more concerned with beating Obama. Support for gay marriage won’t be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The back is already broken.”

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