When David Gregory, moderator of Meet the Press, asked his guests whether same-sex marriage should be a campaign issue, both answered by doing their best to talk about the economy.
Gregory was interviewing two prominent voices for their parties in the House — Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the Budget Committee, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the committee's ranking member, whose home state of Maryland took a big first step toward passing marriage equality this week in its House of Delegates.
Gregory noted that if, as expected, the Maryland Senate passes the bill and the governor signs it, then it would become the eighth state to legalize same-sex marriage, following closely on the heels of Washington where Gov. Christine Gregoire just signed that bill into law on Monday (though it could be challenged at the ballot box).
"It's a significant part of the population," Gregory said of the states where marriage equality is the law. "Is this, should this be, a campaign issue?"
Even as Gregory finished his question, there was an awkward silence as both politicians waited to see if the other would answer first.
Van Hollen seemed to surprise Gregory with his answer. Gregory asked repeated follow-ups after Van Hollen said four times that he supports "marriage equality," which seemed to confuse Gregory. At one point, when Van Hollen seemed to attempt to elaborate on the importance of including religious exemptions, he was cut off by a disbelieving Gregory.
"Certainly this is a legitimate issue and part of the debate we should have," Van Hollen said. "I support civil marriage equality. People have different views on this. But I think that the main focus of the American people remains on the economy and jobs and that's why it's interesting to hear Republicans trying to switch the subject in so many areas."
And then Van Hollen attempted to switch the subject himself — back to President Obama's record on economic growth. Ryan tried a similar tactic.
"Actually, I came on to talk about the debt crisis we have," he said first, before conceding that he'd supported a law in Wisconsin that defined marriage as between one man and one woman.
Ryan pointed out that it was Democrat Bill Clinton who signed the Defense of Marriage Act, without noting that Clinton has since supported marriage equality, even reportedly lobbying for it in Maryland. Ryan also invoked the Obama administration's own opposition to same-sex marriage as reason he shouldn't have to answer questions about it.
"If I recall from the last presidential campaign, President Obama and Vice President Biden said that they support marriage as being between a man and a woman," he said, "so I don't know why we are spending all this time talking about this."