Vice President Joe Biden seemed to endorse same-sex marriage Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." Conflicting responses then came from Biden's office and the Obama campaign. A spokesperson for Biden clarified that the vice president had not changed his position, but his position is "evolving."
"Look, I just think that the good news is that as more and more Americans come to understand what this is all about, it's a simple proposition: Who do you love? Who do you love? And will you be loyal to the person you love? And that's what people are finding out, is what all marriages at their root are about, whether they're marriages of lesbians or gay men or heterosexuals," Biden said.
After David Gregory asked Biden to clarify if that meant he was comfortable with same-sex marriage now, Biden said he was "absolutely comfortable" with same-sex marriage.
"Look. I am vice president of the United States of America. The president sets the policy. I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual – men and women marrying – 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."
Gregory then asked if that meant President Obama would support same-sex marriage in his second term if reelected. Biden responded that he could not answer that question, but the issue is "evolving." He cited the TV show "Will and Grace," which had gay men as main characters, as evidence that Americans are becoming more comfortable with homosexuality. He also said that those who oppose gay marriage do so out of fear of what is different.
"This is evolving. And, by the way, my measure, David, when I take a look at when things really begin to change, is when the social culture changes. I think 'Will and Grace' probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody has ever done so far. And, I think people fear that which is different. Now they're beginning to understand."
The seeming endorsement of gay marriage by the vice president quickly made news across the Twittersphere. Chuck Todd, reporter and political analyst for NBC News, tweeted that Biden had gone further than Obama on gay marriage. A spokesperson for Biden contacted Todd to clarify that Biden was not speaking for Obama. But, a top Obama campaign official seemed to suggest, via Twitter, that Obama held the same view.
"What VP said – that all married couples should have exactly the same legal rights – is precisely POTUS's position," David Axelrod responded to Todd via Twitter.
A spokesperson in Biden's office sent an email to reporters saying that Biden's position on gay marriage had not changed, but, like Obama, his position is "evolving."
"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 rollback those rights. 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," the spokesperson wrote.
Obama has been walking a fine line on the gay marriage issue. He has reached out for the support of gay marriage advocates while also saying that he opposes gay marriage. As Biden pointed out in the interview, Obama's Justice Department is no longer defending in court the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as the union of one man with one woman for purposes of federal law. Obama has also opposed state-level constitutional amendments that would define marriage as the union of one man with one woman.
Gay-rights activists have also criticized Obama, though, for not signing an executive order that would bar federal contractors from discriminating based upon sexual orientation.
Obama's obfuscation on the issue has left activists on both sides of the issue with reasons to complain. Proponents of gay marriage are left to wonder if his "evolving" on the issue will ever become "evolved," or if their support for Obama will ever be reciprocated. Opponents of gay marriage worry that Obama's opposition to gay marriage is a political tactic used to appear moderate on the issue ahead of the election, and that he will end up supporting gay marriage in a second term, when he will no longer be concerned about reelection due to term limits.
Biden's remarks, and the inconsistent messages coming from Biden's office and the Obama campaign afterward, have now added to the confusion.