A day after Joe Biden said he’s “comfortable” with marriage equality and supports equal rights for all couples, White House press secretary Jay Carney attempted to square the vice president’s position with the administration’s.
“I have no updates on the president’s personal views,” Carney said during a contentious press briefing today. “What the vice president said yesterday was to make the same point that the president has made previously, that committed and loving same-sex couples deserve the same rights and protections enjoyed by all Americans."
On Sunday, Biden told NBC’s David Gregory, "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.”
Carney referred reporters to a statement from the Vice President's Office issued shortly after Biden's Sunday interview.
The statement attempted to clarify that "Vice President Biden was echoing the President's position: that committed and loving same-sex couples deserve the same rights and protections enjoyed by all Americans, and that we oppose any effort to rollback those rights," the statement read. "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."
Then the statement claimed that anything seeming out of the ordinary was actually just evidence of Biden's "expressing that he too is evolving on the issue."
Carney said Biden's statements were "misinterpreted." He called Biden's contention that there's no difference between same-sex marriage and heterosexual marriage a "personal view" and claimed that "nothing has changed" from the president himself.
"Everybody in this room is reacting this way to one story that takes off and then they run down the field and chase it," Carney complained to the reporters. "Nothing has changed in the president's firm commitment to LGBT rights."
Carney was visibly perturbed by repeated questions asking him to explain whether Biden's move signaled part of the president's own "evolution" on marriage equality, and to define what an "evolution" would look like. He dodged on both questions, and he couldn't say whether the president was aware of Biden's personal view that there is no difference between same-sex married couples and heterosexual ones.
As it has done for months, the Obama campaign has sought to distinguish the president’s record on progress for LGBT rights from the statements made by presumptive Republican candidate Mitt Romney, rather than address Obama’s “evolving” position. However, Obama state campaign officials have spoke out on anti-marriage equality ballot initiatives in Minnesota and North Carolina, the latter to be decided by voters on Tuesday.
Like Carney, Obama campaign deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter attempted to frame Biden’s comments as entirely on message, saying that the vice president “was really impressing the same policies as this president.”
Pressed by NBC's Andrea Mitchell, who read Biden’s money quote from Sunday’s NBC interview, Cutter replied, “Andrea, I’m not going to make news on the president’s views on gay marriage today.”
Monday’s press briefing at the White House came just hours after another cabinet official, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, came out in favor of marriage equality during an interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. In November, HUD secretary Shaun Donovan became the first Obama cabinet official to publicly support marriage rights for same-sex couples.
In an interview Sunday with Metro Weekly, Chad Griffin, incoming president for the Human Rights Campaign, said of Biden’s Sunday comments, "Only in Washington and in politics could someone attempt to parse the words of what the vice president of the United States said on Meet the Press."
“His words speak for themselves — and they send an incredibly important message outside Washington to the young LGBT teenager hearing the vice president of the United States talk about his belief in marriage equality and the fact that he or she can grow up and have the same dreams and aspirations as their friends, their colleagues, their parents,” Griffin said.