Vice President Joe Biden says he's “absolutely comfortable” with gay couples who marry getting the same civil rights and liberties as heterosexual couples, a stand that gay rights advocates interpreted as an endorsement of same-sex marriage.
But the White House and President Barack Obama's re-election campaign, eager to avoid a debate on a hot-button social issue in an election year, insisted that Biden was not breaking ranks with Obama, who does not publicly support gay marriage.
Biden told NBC's “Meet the Press” that marriage should be about being loyal to someone you love, whether that marriage is between a man and a woman, two men or two women. “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 in the interview broadcast Sunday.
Gay rights advocates said Biden's comments signaled unmistakable support for gay marriage, which they said made him the highest-ranking member in the Obama administration to take that position.
“I'm grateful that the vice president of the United States is now publically supporting marriage equality and I hope very soon the president and the rest of our leaders, Republicans and Democrats in Congress, will fall in line with the vice president,” said Chad Griffin, a gay rights supporter and a member of the Obama campaign's national finance committee.
Joe Solmonese, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, said his group was encouraged by Biden's comments and called on Obama to speak out for “full marriage equality” for same-sex couples.
While Obama opposes gay marriage, he says his personal views on the matter are “evolving” and has noted that polls show Americans are increasingly supporting same-sex marriage.
Biden, a devout Catholic, has said previously that personal views, as well as the country's, on gay marriage are evolving.
The vice president's office said Sunday after the interview aired that Biden's comments were not an endorsement of gay marriage, but simply a reaffirmation of his belief that same-sex couples deserve the same rights and protections as all Americans.
David Axelrod, a senior adviser to the Obama campaign, chimed in on Twitter, saying Biden and Obama share the view that all married couples should have the same legal rights.
For the Obama campaign, gay marriage has become a vexing election year issue.
On Monday White House press secretary Jay Carney said Biden’s remarks were his personal views on gay marriage.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said on Monday he supports gay marriage.
In an interview on MSNBC, Duncan was asked if he believes same-sex couples should be able to legally marry. He responded: “Yes, I do.”