Slowly, perhaps inexorably, America is warming to the idea of same-sex marriage. One uniquely prominent American, however, refuses to be rushed.
President Barack Obama clings to a cautious political middle ground, still personally opposed, but “evolving,” a word that signals he is moving away from his opposition to same-sex marriage but not yet willing to be pinned down on a new stand.
His is an evolution that could echo the country’s shifting views. It also could bespeak a politician facing a close re-election – mindful that the issue remains polarizing in some corners of the land such as North Carolina, a swing state where polls show majority support for an anti-gay marriage state constitutional amendment up for a vote Tuesday.
Obama found his personal views questioned anew Monday after two of his closest advisers – Vice President Joe Biden and Education Secretary Arne Duncan – both expressed personal support for same-sex marriage.
Duncan, a close friend from Chicago days, was asked on television Monday whether he believes people should be allowed to legally wed members of their own gender. “Yes, I do," he said on MSNBC.
Biden also personally embraced same-sex marriage.
“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," Biden said Sunday on NBC.
Gay rights groups applauded both comments and worked to leverage pressure on Obama.
“Now is the time for President Obama to speak out for full marriage equality for same-sex couples,” said Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that the president shares these values, and that’s why it’s time for him to speak out in favor of marriage equality as well,” he added in a second statement Monday.
Obama wouldn’t budge.
Campaign aides sidestepped questions about Obama’s personal views on marriage Monday, pointing instead to his support for other gay rights, such as allowing gays to serve openly in the military and his decision to stop defending the legality of the anti-gay marriage Defense of Marriage Act signed into law by Bill Clinton.
At the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney also pointed repeatedly to Obama’s support of rights – other than marriage – for what’s called the LGBT community of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders. “His record on LGBT rights is simply unparalleled,” Carney said. “And he will continue to fight for what is right going forward.”
He would not, however, say whether that ever would include Obama’s support for gay marriage. “I have no update on the president’s personal views,” he said. “The president said that he was evolving. . . . His position is what it was.”
Carney refused to say why Obama opposes gay marriage: “I really don’t have any update for you.”
He refused to say why Obama does not support gay marriage: “I just don’t have an update for you on the president’s position.”
He also refused to take a stand on a proposed amendment to the party platform supporting gay marriage expected at this summer’s Democratic National Convention – even though the White House controls the Democratic National Committee and the convention. “I would refer you to the DNC,” Carney said.
Obama’s evolution trails popular opinion.
Americans have grown more accepting of same-sex marriage over the last decade. Not broadly supportive, but more open to it. The Pew Research Center, for example, found 47 percent of Americans favoring legal same-sex marriage and 43 percent opposed. In 2008, 38 percent favored it and 49 percent opposed.
Yet it remains a divisive issue, particularly in some states.
In North Carolina, 55 percent of likely voters in Tuesday’s elections support a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions, while 39 percent oppose it, according to a survey by Public Policy Polling, a Raleigh-based, left-leaning firm.
Obama opposes the amendment, Carney said Monday.
“The president has long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same-sex couples,” he said. “That is a position he has taken that precedes his taking a position in North Carolina. It’s a position he’s taken in other states where this has been an issue.”
He would not, however, support gay marriage.