Biden releases the marriage genie

Biden releases the marriage genie

President Obama and Vice President Biden are an amusing study in contrasts. Obama is deliberate, contemplative and takes his time to evaluate an issue or problem before venturing a solution. Biden, meanwhile, wears his heart on his sleeve and frequently finds himself in trouble for talking out of turn.

So it was on Sunday, when Biden appeared to endorse marriage equality during an interview on “Meet the Press.”

Joe Biden. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key.)

“I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men marrying women are entitled to the same exact rights,” Biden said. “All the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And quite frankly I don’t see much of a distinction beyond that.”

But Biden did something that most reluctantly supportive Democrats refuse to do and spoke eloquently about our love and relationships, rather than deliver the usual legalistic “civil rights” argument.

“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?”

It’s the sort of basic, root argument that we don’t hear nearly enough of from our allies. Sen. Ted Kennedy articulated similar sentiments during the debate over the Federal Marriage Amendment, but very few Democratic supporters get it the way Biden does. It’s not just about accessing a laundry list of rights, it’s about something much more important: societal respect and equality for our relationships.

The administration’s lame attempts at minimizing Biden’s statements were laughable.

Immediately after the interview ended, a Biden spokesperson released a 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 rollback those rights,” the spokesperson said.

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

Then on Monday came a news conference in which Axelrod said, “I think that they were entirely consistent with the president’s position, which is that couples who are married — whether gay or heterosexual couples — are entitled to the very same rights and very same liberties.”

Also Monday, White House press secretary Jay Carney found himself in the unenviable position of defending Obama’s confounding position. Only this time, it wasn’t just members of the LGBT press asking the questions, but a full-court press by the mainstream members of the White House press corps demanding answers.

The problem with all the backpedaling and spinning is that Obama doesn’t publicly support the “very same liberties” for all — apparently he only supports rights for couples living in a handful of states where same-sex marriage is legal. That’s not equality. It’s splitting hairs and after Biden’s remarks, Obama’s position is exposed as absurd and unsustainable.

Gay rights advocates have been pushing Obama to complete his “evolution” on marriage before the November election. Like Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who recently revealed that he was privately supportive of marriage before finding the courage to say so publicly, Obama’s announcement is just a matter of time. His campaign strategists clearly think the timing — just before an election — is risky and wrong. The polls show a contest between Mitt Romney and Obama will be close.

But after Biden’s interview and the uncharacteristically sloppy response by the White House, it’s time for Obama to stop this embarrassing charade and say what he means. And if Romney attacks him for it, Obama can remind everyone that he’s merely catching up with Dick Cheney and Ken Mehlman. This election won’t be about marriage and a growing number of Americans support equality anyway.

The dominoes are falling, the genie is released: Obama’s own education secretary, Arne Duncan, announced Monday his support for marriage equality. Hillary Clinton and other members of the cabinet can’t be far behind. It’s too late for Obama to lead on this issue, but how far behind will he follow?

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