Obama press conference: President stays in closet on gay marriage

In a rare solo press conference, Obama dodged reporters' efforts to make him clarify his position on gay marriage. He supports civil unions but has said his position is 'evolving.'

Charles Dharapak / AP
President Obama gives a news conference in the East Room of the White House on June 29.

Try as they might, the White House press corps could not get President Obama to say out loud something that he is widely thought to believe: that same-sex marriage should be legal.

In his first solo press conference since March – and on the heels of New York’s historic legalization of gay marriage last weekend, the biggest state to do so – Mr. Obama deflected multiple attempts to get him to say the magic words. Obama has long said he supports civil unions, but in recent months has said he’s “evolving” in his views on the definition of marriage.

Obama’s reticence to come right out and say “I support gay marriage” reflects a political calculation. He’s heading into his reelection campaign, and he needs to attract key demographics in swing states – seniors, minorities, and political independents. Although public support for gay marriage has grown significantly in recent years, that’s not necessarily the case among those groups. And in what he expects to be a close election, the president does not want to lose any votes he doesn’t have to do.

In addition, gay activists say they know that in his heart, Obama is on their side. Of those who would otherwise support his reelection, most say that his artful dodges on gay marriage will not change their votes.

At the press conference, Chuck Todd of NBC took the first pass: Is gay marriage a civil right? he asked. Obama went through his usual list of accomplishments toward achieving equality for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people, including the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask don’t tell” policy that banned open service by LGBT people and his administration’s decision to stop defending in court the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage in federal law as one man and one woman.

Then Obama discussed New York: “What I've seen happen over the last several years – and what happened in New York last week – I think was a good thing, because what you saw was the people of New York having a debate, talking through these issues,” Obama said. “It was contentious, it was emotional, but ultimately, they made a decision to recognize civil marriages. And I think that's exactly how things should work.”

Laura Meckler of the Wall Street Journal asked the question more directly: Do you personally support gay marriage?

“I'm not going to make news on that today,” Obama said to laughter from reporters. “Good try, though.”

Ms. Meckler tried again. Obama dodged again. “Laura, I think this has been asked and answered,” he said, smiling. “I'll just – I'll keep on giving you the same answer until I give you a different one. All right? And that won't be today.”

More laughter from the press corps.

On Wednesday night, Obama will have another opportunity to make public remarks on gay rights when he hosts an event in the same room – the East Room of the White House – observing LGBT Pride Month. But don’t hold your breath waiting for him to endorse same-sex marriage.

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