Not one to bite his tongue, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden boldly declared Sunday that he was “absolutely comfortable” with same-sex marriages, putting President Obama back in the hot seat with gay rights activists.
“I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men and women marrying one another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties,” said Biden, in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” The New York Times reported.
Biden, a 69-year-old Roman Catholic, seemed to acknowledge in his interview that he was diverging from the president’s stated position.
“Look. I am vice president of the United States of America,” Biden added, according to the Washington Post. “The president sets the policy."
“I can’t speak to that. I don’t know the answer to that,” he said.
Nevertheless, gay rights groups praised Biden.
“We are encouraged by Vice President Biden’s comments, who rightly articulated that loving and committed gay and lesbian couples should be treated equally,” Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement.
He added: “Now is the time for President Obama to speak out for full marriage equality for same-sex couples.”
As Election Day 2012 approaches, Obama has come under criticism from gay rights groups and others for not endorsing same-sex marriage.
The issue is a politically thorny one for Obama. If he were to come out in favor of same-sex marriage, he could help energize core Democratic supporters ahead of the November election but he could also run the risk of losing the support of some independents and could be viewed as acting out of political opportunism. If he continues “evolving” on the issue, he risks leaving a key part of his base disenchanted ahead of the November election.
President Barack Obama at Ready to Go Rally, Richmond, VA, May 5th, 2012
As The Wall Street Journal's Peter Nicholas reported, polls show the political risk of embracing same sex-marriage is fading. But Obama has tried to avoid making news on the issue.
Biden's comments sent the White House scrambling for damage control.
Immediately after its airing Sunday morning, a Biden spokesman said that 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.
He said as much during the show. According to the transcript from NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
DAVID GREGORY: You raise social policy. I’m curious. You know, the president has said that his views on gay marriage, on same-sex marriage have evolved. But he’s opposed to it. You’re opposed to it. Have your views– evolved?
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Look– I just think– that– the good news is that as more and more Americans become to understand what this is all about is 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– what all marriages, at their root, are about. Whe– whether they’re– marriages of lesbians or gay men or heterosexuals.
He even touching on the influence of the television show “Will and Grace.” (He said the show “probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody’s ever done so far.”)
David Gregory on set.
A Biden spokesperson told Reuters 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 New York Times writes that Biden recalled meeting the two children of a gay couple at a Los Angeles fund-raiser two weeks ago, an experience that aides said had left a deep impression on him.
During a question-and-answer session at the fund-raiser, Biden recalled, a gay man asked, “How do you feel about us?”
Biden recounted his reply: “I turned to the man who owned the house. I said, ‘What did I do when I walked in?’ He said: ‘You walked right to my children. They were 7 and 5, giving you flowers.’ ”
“And I said, ‘I wish every American could see the look of love those kids had in their eyes for you guys. And they wouldn’t have any doubt about what this is about.’ ”
In the wide-ranging NBC interview, Reuters said Biden also dismissed rumors that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may take his place as vice president on the 2012 Democratic ticket.
"There's no way out," he joked. "I mean, they've already printed Obama-Biden."