WASHINGTON — I’m not sure what’s more remarkable, that Education Secretary Arne Duncan gave a candid answer when asked about gay marriage on Monday. Or that he was able to do it in three words.
Duncan was asked by Mark Halperin on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” “Do you believe that same-sex men and women should be able to get legally married in the United States?”
“Yes, I do,” Duncan said. And with that he jumped in the fray — unwittingly — over whether President Barack Obama will budge from his current position on gay marriage. Obama supports civil unions, but not gay marriage.
Obama’s position is that he is “evolving” on the subject. At a news conference in December, 2010, Obama said, “I think this is something that we’re going to continue to debate and I personally am going to continue to wrestle with going forward.”
For some weeks now, the matter of gay marriage has been bubbling near the surface because Obama is facing some pressure from within his Democratic base — to finish evolving already.
There is some talk about a gay marriage plank at the upcoming Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. This in turn prompts reporters to ask Democratic officials and office holders about their positions on gay marriage.
Duncan’s pithy reply came the day after Vice President Joe Biden was asked about gay marriage by David Gregory on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” The answer Biden gave went further than where the boss is.
“Look, I just think that the good news is that as more and more Americans come to understand what this is all about is a simple proposition — who do you love? Who do you love? And will you be loyal to the person you love? And that’s what people are finding out is what all marriages, at their root, are about. Whether they’re marriages of lesbians or gay men or heterosexuals,” Biden said.
Gregory asked, “And you’re comfortable with same-sex marriage now?”
“I am vice president of the United States of America. The president sets the policy. I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying, are entitled to the same, exact rights — all the civil rights, all the civil liberties and, quite frankly, I don’t see much of a distinction beyond that.”
But by going so far — and so passionately — Biden elevated the gay marriage debate, propelled it into the conversation — not one the Obama re-election team had been looking for at this time. They couldn’t have been surprised about the issue, though, not with all the major gay donors the Obama team is wooing for campaign cash.
Now Obama has a strong record to show on LGBT issues: repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” not defending the Defense of Marriage Act anymore, extending hospital visiting rights for gay families. In recent weeks, the Obama administration may have disappointed some by declining to move on an executive order to prevent anti-gay discrimination in federal government contracting.
Questions about gay marriage dominated much of the briefing White House Secretary Jay Carney conducted on Monday, such as this: “The vice president appears to have evolved on the issue, but the president is still evolving — is that a fair characterization?”
Biden and Duncan were not telegraphing any strategy shift. But after the election — I wouldn’t be surprised if Obama finished that evolution — and, like Duncan simply said, will also say “Yes, I do,” when asked whether he backs gay marriage.