Joe Biden stirs the pot on same-sex marriage

Vice President Joe Biden says he's 'absolutely comfortable' with same-sex marriage. That seems to put him out front of President Obama on a hot-button issue that is sure to come up in the presidential election.

Allen Breed/AP
Hundreds of people gather behind the state capitol for a rally supporting a constitutional ban on gay marriage in Raleigh, N.C. Voters will decide May 8 whether North Carolina will remain the only state in the South without such a constitutional ban.

Uh-oh. Did Joe Biden just get out front of his boss on gay marriage?

On NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, the Vice President had this to say:

“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.”

Being Number 2 in the White House, Biden naturally preceded that eye-opener with, “I am vice president of the United States of America. The president sets the policy.”

But the policy – or at least the position staked out by President Obama – is not the same as “men marrying men, women marrying women.” Obama supports civil unions, but that’s it.

A Biden aide quickly “clarified” the VP’s on-air statement.

"The vice president was saying what the president has said previously – that committed and loving same-sex couples deserve the same rights and protections enjoyed by all Americans, and that we oppose any effort to roll back those rights," the aide said. "That's why we stopped defending the constitutionality of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act in legal challenges and support legislation to repeal it. Beyond that, the vice president was expressing that he too is evolving on the issue, after meeting so many committed couples and families in this country."

From the Obama campaign, senior advisor David Axelrod tweeted, “What VP said – that all married couples should have exactly the same legal rights – is precisely POTUS’s position.”

Nice try, but gay rights activists immediately took notice of what seemed to be – if not a vice presidential slip of the tongue – a crack in the administration’s position. They’re pushing for a marriage-equality plank in the Democratic Party platform at this summer’s convention.

“We are encouraged by Vice President Biden's comments, who rightly articulated that loving and committed gay and lesbian couples should be treated equally,” said Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese. “Now is the time for President Obama to speak out for full marriage equality for same-sex couples.”

Chris Barron of GOProud, the Republican pro-gay rights group, tweeted, “Remember those 5 minutes when Biden was for gay marriage? Good times. ”

It’s probably not the kind of kerfuffle Obama needed the day after he officially kicked off his reelection campaign with rallies in battleground states Ohio and Virginia.

But it’s an issue that can’t be avoided this (or any other) campaign season.

As Politico took note in reporting Biden’s comments Sunday, gay marriage is currently legal in six states and Washington, D.C. and has been passed by two more – Maryland and Washington state – but is not in effect, pending referendums in November. There’s also a legalization vote scheduled for November in Maine, and votes to ban gay marriage in North Carolina and Minnesota. The North Carolina amendment is up for a vote on Tuesday.

Like Obama and Biden, Americans’ position on same-sex marriage is “evolving.”

A year ago, Gallup reported that for the first time in polling history, a majority of those surveyed (53-45 percent) supported the legalization of same-sex marriage.

As recently as 2008, according to a Pew Research Center survey, a majority (51-39 percent) opposed gay marriage. Pew now finds that a plurality (47-43 percent) now approves of such marriages.

Important differences remain among types of voters, Gallup reports, with Democrats, independents, and younger voters (18-34) very much in favor while most Republicans and voters over the age of 55 clearly oppose gay marriage.
 All of which puts Obama in something of a bind on a hot-button social issue that has galvanizing power on both side of the political divide.

“It is a thin but stark line between being against discrimination and for equality,” Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, told Politico. “It is very noticeable to same-sex couples that [Obama] has not clearly stated his support for our lives and our families.”

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