White House downplays Biden's same-sex marriage remarks
(CNN) - White House Press Secretary Jay Carney faced questions over the president's position on same-sex marriage Monday, after some in the Obama administration –including Vice President Joe Biden - expressed support for the issue in the last two days.
Biden, Carney argued, was not voicing a new White House position when he said Sunday he was "absolutely comfortable" with two individuals of the same gender getting legally married.
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"What the vice president said yesterday was to make the same point the president has made 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," Carney said in the White House press briefing.
On NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday, Biden gave an impassioned answer on what he sees as a changing, more inclusive shift in American culture to the LGBT community, going further in stating his views than President Barack Obama has in the past.
The president, who once opposed same-sex marriage, has taken the official position that his stance on the issue is "evolving." He has hinted at fundraisers, however, that there is more work to be done, leading many in the LGBT community to believe the president may work to legalize same-sex marriage on the national level under a second term.
Some on Twitter seized on the vice president's words Sunday to question whether the White House was signaling a change in position on the issue ahead of the election.
But Carney on Monday shot down the idea, saying Biden's words mirrored –not advanced– the president's position. He also pointed to the administration's work in repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and its decision to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act as examples of the president's policies toward LGBT rights.
"I think you have heard him say, and those in the administration like myself who speak for him, that he strongly opposes efforts to restrict rights to repeal rights for same sex couples," Carney said.
Pressed on the Obama's position, Carney said he has "no update on the president's personal views" but referenced that Obama has previously said his stance was "evolving."
Also weighing in Monday, senior Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod said Biden's comment did not represent a change in policy for the administration. He expressed a similar sentiment Sunday via Twitter.
"I think they were entirely consistent with the president's position," Axelrod said on a conference call with reporters. "A couple who are married, whether they're gay or heterosexual, are entitled to the same rights and very same liberties."
Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Monday also made headlines when he openly backed same-sex marriage rights.
Asked on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," if he supports individuals of the same gender to legally wed, Duncan replied: "Yes, I do."
"I don't think I've ever been asked publicly," Duncan said.
Adding to the mix, Obama campaign co-chair Caroline Kennedy released a statement Monday in favor of a plank for same-sex marriage rights as part of the Democratic National Convention's platform later this year.
The proposal, however, has caused division within the party. While Convention Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa has sided with the idea, Carney said Monday "it's a platform that hasn't been developed" and deferred further questions to the Democratic National Committee.
Kennedy, who also served as a co-chair on Obama's 2008 vice presidential search committee, pushed Monday for the party to officially include same-sex marriage rights in its platform.
"There are few things in life more important than being able to marry and build a family with the person you love. This fundamental right should be available to all Americans, including gay and lesbian couples," Kennedy said in a statement released by Freedom to Marry, an advocacy group.
According to the latest CNN/ORC International Poll, a majority of Americans (53%) believe marriages between gay or lesbian couples should be recognized as valid, while 45% disagree with the notion.
The issue is also making news this week in North Carolina, where voters will cast their ballots Tuesday on an initiative that would add a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and partnerships.
High-profile figures have added their voices to the debate. Evangelist Billy Graham made a rare public statement endorsing the measure, while former President Bill Clinton, who used to oppose same-sex marriage, recorded robo calls to half a million voters urging them to vote against the initiative.
Freedom to Marry quickly put out a statement Monday on Duncan's comments.
"Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's announcement this morning adds him to the drumbeat of Obama Administration members coming out in support of the freedom to marry for same-sex couples," the group's founder, Evan Wolfson, said in a statement
He also pointed to Biden, Clinton, former Vice Presidents Gore and Cheney, as well as Laura Bush, as examples of high-profile Democrats and Republicans in support of same-sex marriage.
"Secretary Duncan knows that loving and committed gay couples seek the freedom to marry for the same mix of reasons as other couples: to make a vow to one another, to share life with the person they love, and to protect their families," Wolfson said.
Obama's North Carolina campaign spokesperson Cameron French put out a release in mid-March, stating the president's opposition to the proposed amendment.
“While the President does not weigh in on every single ballot measure in every state, the record is clear that the President has long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same sex couples," French said. "That’s what the North Carolina ballot initiative would do – it would single out and discriminate against committed gay and lesbian couples – and that’s why the President does not support it.”
– CNN's Jessica Yellin, Ashley Killough and Gabriella Schwarz contributed to this report.