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Obama Campaign Explains Gay Marriage Comment


Now, it's widely assumed that the economy will decide this fall's presidential election. But many other issues will play their roles, from national security to gay marriage. A remark yesterday by Vice President Joe Biden was not necessarily what his boss's campaign was hoping for.

And we're going to talk about that and more as we do most Mondays with Cokie Roberts. Cokie, good morning.


INSKEEP: You know, it's always surprising when the vice president says something awkward.


ROBERTS: Well, he was asked directly on NBC's "Meet The Press" about gay marriage. And he said, and I am quoting here: "I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties."

Now, you know, the president has said that his position on gay rights is, quote, "evolving." And this has been something that the administration has been very, very skittish about. And when the vice president was asked if Obama would push for gay marriage in his second term, he says he didn't know.

He pointed out that the president had repealed Don't Ask, Don't Tell, but immediately after the vice president's remarks, the campaign operatives began sending out tweets, David Axelrod saying, well, equal rights was the president's position. But that's not exactly what Biden said. So they are clearly upset about the off-script vice president.

And then the attempt to walk back what he said started to cause upset immediately in the gay community, which has been pushing for a gay marriage plank in the Democratic platform. Some had said they had taken heart from the vice president's comments and then were upset that they seemed to be being pushed back by the campaign.

INSKEEP: Can I just ask, Cokie Roberts, why the administration would tie itself into knots on this. If it's a political issue - I mean I'm looking at a Gallop Survey. This is from last year, but we could pick a lot of polls. This particular survey had - the headline is For First Time Majority of Americans Favor Legal Gay Marriage. It was 53 to 45.

ROBERTS: Right. And that's remarkable, Steve, because in 1996, 68 percent in that same poll said no when asked whether a gay marriage should be recognized by law. So it has turned around dramatically. But it's still an issue when it comes up for a vote in a referendum, the gay marriage advocates lose. Tomorrow, North Carolina is voting on a constitutional amendment that not only bans same sex marriage, but also civil unions, domestic partnerships, and enshrines that ban in the state constitution.

Now, the president said he's opposed to it. But the current poll says it's likely to win. And more referenda are likely to come - in Maryland, Washington, Maine, being pushed by Catholic bishops at the same time Republicans are claiming that Obama has declared a war against the Catholic Church. Now, that's not necessarily the view shared by the folks in the pews it's instructive that every state gay marriage law has been signed by a governor who is Catholic.

But despite the polling, the referenda have gone against the gay community and the Obama camp fears those referenda get out folks who will vote Republican up and down the ballot.

INSKEEP: I guess it's not just a question of what people's opinions are, but who feels more intensely about it and gets people out to vote.

ROBERTS: Absolutely.

INSKEEP: Now, you mentioned that tomorrow is a voting day in some states. One of those states is Indiana. Senate primary on the Republican side, Richard Lugar of Indiana is facing a contested primary for the first time in decades.

ROBERTS: At the moment he looks like he's losing, something he has said himself over the weekend. State Treasurer Richard Murdock, Tea Party backed, seems to have the momentum there. And Steve, this is your home state. You know well that there are always issues that are not necessarily national. Dick Lugar has been being portrayed as out of touch. He didn't have a home in Indiana.

But the truth is that an election like this has a chilling effect in the Senate, because what happens is even if Lugar wins, he comes back a different senator from the bipartisan reaching-across-the-aisle kind of senator he's been for decades. He comes back fearful, and it makes for a much more polarized Congress.

INSKEEP: OK. Thanks very much. That's Cokie Roberts, who joins us most Mondays. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Cokie Roberts was one of the 'Founding Mothers' of NPR who helped make that network one of the premier sources of news and information in this country. She served as a congressional correspondent at NPR for more than 10 years and later appeared as a commentator on Morning Edition. In addition to her work for NPR, Roberts was a political commentator for ABC News, providing analysis for all network news programming.