Vice President Biden said Sunday on Meet the Press that he was “absolutely comfortable” with gay marriage, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Monday in a separate interview that he thought same-sex couples should be able to marry.
On Monday, Obama’s aides stressed that the president’s views — who supports civil unions but opposes same-sex marriage — remain unchanged, while also arguing that Obama’s position on gay rights is vastly different from that of the likely GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
The renewed debate on gay marriage comes as North Carolina, a swing state that Obama captured in 2008 by a razor-thin margin, goes to the polls today to consider an amendment to the state constitution that would ban civil unions and domestic partnerships. While the Obama campaign announced his opposition to the amendment, he has otherwise stayed out of the debate on the North Carolina initiative — which polls show is likely to pass.
Meanwhile, a Gallup Poll to be published today shows that Americans nationally are closely divided on the matter — 50% say gay marriage should be legal; 48% say it should not.
Obama has touted his gay rights record — that he has ended a policy that prohibits openly gays and lesbians from serving in the U.S. military, and under his watch the Department of Justice has refused to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman. Romney has vowed to defend DOMA and has signed a pledge to support a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
But Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said that ultimately Romney and Obama hold the same view on gay marriage: They’re against it.
“The difference is that Mitt Romney is being honest about his position the whole way through,” Priebus said in an interview on MSNBC.
In a call with reporters, Obama campaign senior strategist David Axelrod said that Biden’s comments “were entirely consistent with the president’s position.” Axelrod also tried to turn the spotlight on Romney, arguing that the former Massachusetts governor would “take us backward, not forward, so there’s a very clear distinction in this race.”
Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of GOProud, a gay Republican group that supports same-sex marriage, criticized the president for “trying to have it both ways” on the issue.
“What’s become clear is whatever they ultimately decide is going to be a political decision rather than a position based on principle,” LaSalvia said.
Gay rights advocates have urged the president — who has previously said his views on the matter are “evolving” — to embrace gay marriage before the election. But Brian Brown, president of the conservative National Organization for Marriage, suggested that a debate on gay marriage could benefit Romney in several swing states that have gay-marriage bans on the books, including Ohio, Florida, Virginia and Nevada.
“Joe Biden just made gay marriage a major issue,” he said.
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