Obama Pressed by Rights Groups to Back Same-Sex Marriage

Gay-rights advocates are seeking a definitive answer from President Barack Obama on same-sex marriage after two senior administration officials backed giving gay couples the same rights as heterosexual married couples.

Vice President Joe Biden and Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in separate television interviews that they support gay marriage. Obama supports equal rights for gays while stopping short of endorsing same-sex marriage.

Such mixed messages will hurt Obama with gay voters, who will be less inclined to volunteer for and donate to the president’s re-election campaign, said John Aravosis, a gay- rights advocate and 2008 Obama supporter.

“It’s a gaping wound of hurt,” Aravosis said, adding that the administration’s position won’t satisfy either side in the debate.

“What really happens is once again people on the left feel like the president is playing games with our civil rights and people on the right think he’s for gay marriage anyway,” Aravosis said in an interview.

The same-sex marriage issue remains divisive among black and Hispanic voters, two core Obama constituencies. Recent polls show same-sex marriage, which is legal in six states and Washington, D.C., gaining acceptance nationally. Still, the issue poses political risks for Obama as he seeks to build enthusiasm for what the campaign expects will be a close race against Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

‘Absolutely Comfortable’

Biden said on May 6 on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program that he is “absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men and women are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties.”

On the NBC program, Biden, 69, emphasized that it is Obama who “sets the policy” for the administration.

White House press secretary Jay Carney and David Axelrod, Obama’s chief political strategist, said yesterday that Biden’s remarks were “entirely consistent” with Obama’s views.

“The president is the right person to describe his own personal views,” Carney told reporters at his daily briefing, where he was repeatedly questioned about Obama’s stance. “He, as you know, said that his views on this were evolving, and I don’t have an update for you on that.”

Stronger Statement Sought

Joe Solmonese, president of the advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign, said Biden’s words amount to an endorsement of gay marriage, and he urged Obama to make a stronger statement.

“We are encouraged by Vice President Biden’s comments, who rightly articulated that loving and committed gay and lesbian couples should be treated equally,” Solmonese said in a statement on the group’s website. “Now is the time for President Obama to speak out for full marriage equality for same-sex couples.”

Obama has highlighted his efforts on behalf of gay rights, including expanded hospital visitation rights for same-sex couples and a repeal of the policy prohibiting openly gay people from serving in the armed forces.

Duncan, asked on MSNBC yesterday whether he believes same- sex couples should be able to marry legally, replied, “Yes I do.”

Axelrod told reporters on a conference call that Biden was expressing a view “entirely consistent with the president’s position, which is that couples who are married, whether they’re gay or heterosexual couples, are entitled to the very same rights and very same liberties.”

Carney said Duncan “was asked a question about his personal views on an issue and he offered them.”

Romney Stance

Romney was governor of Massachusetts when the state’s Supreme Judicial Court ruled same-sex couples had a right to wed under the state’s constitution. Romney supported putting the issue to a referendum.

During the presidential campaign, Romney has said he would propose a constitutional amendment to define marriage as a relationship between and man and a woman.

While he has said he supports equal rights in employment and other areas while opposing same-sex marriage, some factions in the Republican Party are against expanding rights for gays and are keeping up pressure on the candidate.

Romney’s spokesman on national security matters, Richard Grenell, who is openly gay, resigned his campaign post on May 1 following attacks by anti-gay activists.

Rising Support

Support for same-sex marriage has been rising. In a March 7-10 ABC/Washington Post poll, 52 percent said it should be legal for gays to marry, with 43 percent saying it should be illegal. In a February 2010 poll, 47 percent said same-sex marriage should be legal.

Gay marriage is legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and New York and the nation’s capital. Legislatures in Maryland and Washington have passed legislation, though the measures haven’t yet taken effect. Voters in the swing state of North Carolina go to the polls today to vote on a ballot initiative that would ban gay marriage.

To contact the reporters on this story: Roger Runningen in Washington at rrunningen@bloomberg.net; Kate Andersen Brower in Washington at kandersen7@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at skomarow1@bloomberg.net

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