Obama stays cryptic, maintains wide stance on gay marriage

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
Font Size:

White House spokesman Jay Carney retreated into a rhetorical closet on Tuesday while protecting his boss from the political taint of agreeing with former Senator Rick Santorum, a leading social conservative.

Carney’s withdrawal came after a question about the truth of Santorum’s claim on Monday that “President Obama says he has the same position I have on gay marriage.”

“You know very well what the president’s views are on LGBT isses and civil rights. The president is very proud of this administration’s record on those issues,” Carney responded, referring to Obama’s outspoken support for policies favored by gay and lesbian advocacy groups.

“You know and others here know and understand his position broadly on LGBT issues is quite significantly different from other that particular candidate’s views,” Carney added, without answering the question about the similarities between Obama’s and Santorum’s marriage positions.

Carney’s defensive ambiguity is driven by progressives’ disdain for the conservative Santorum because of his outspoken advocacy of child-centered marriage, and by deep fractures in Obama’s political coalition.

Some progressives have accused Santorum of equating homosexuality with bestiality.

Santorum supports the mainstream view that government-supported marriage evolved to help parents raise children in the best possible circumstances — a stable, long-term relationship where the father and mother have the incentive and ability to raise their infants to adulthood.

Progressives and gay advocates, however, champion the increasingly popular vision of marriage as a legal amenity created for adults to mutually support each other and to showcase their romantic relationship, regardless of offspring or the sex of the parents.

This adult-centered view is shared by many heterosexuals, and has won support among judges, media outlets and legislators in Democratic-dominated states.

It is opposed, however, by larger numbers of African-American and Hispanic voters who favor the traditional view of marriage that has persisted from before recorded history.

The child-centered definition of marriage has won a public majority in almost 30 state ballots, and lost in none, partly because it is strongly supported by poor Americans, including minority groups.

Obama needs a high turnout from both blocs, which would be in jeopardy if he publicly embraced same-sex marriage.

To bridge this political gap, Obama has adopted a wide stance.

He says he opposes same-sex marriage, but also insists that his views are “evolving,” presumably in the progressives’ direction. For example, Obama has not opposed his Justice Department’s decision to forgo any legal defense of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which enshrines the traditional view of marriage in federal law.

“The president is presenting the opposition to same-sex marriage because he is concerned that coming out for gay marriage will hurt his chances, both by energizing his base and hurting him with black voters,” leading marriage advocate Maggie Gallagher told The Daily Caller.

But he also resists talking about the issue. For example, he declined to address marriage while rallying hundreds of gays at a September fundraiser in West Hollywood.

“I don’t have anything new to give you on this,” Carney told reporters Tuesday. “The president has spoken to it. I’m sure he’ll be asked again about it, but as of now I have no — nothing new for you on it.”

Obama’s ambiguous positioning allows gays and lesbians to believe he would step up his support of their during a second term in office.

That support is reflected by statements from gay advocacy leaders, and by the prominent role some gay donors are playing his his fundraising efforts, Gallagher explained.

“The gay political establishment seems to have given him permission to oppose same-sex marriage publicly, as long as he support their legislative and legal agenda in other ways,” she told TheDC.

Follow Neil on Twitter