White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on Monday declined to directly address questions about President Obama’s early support for same-sex marriage and whether the president might again embrace that position before the 2012 election.
In response to questions from the Washington Blade on the president’s 1996 statement favoring marriage rights for same-sex couples, Gibbs noted he wasn’t working for Obama at that time and said he could only restate the president’s current position.
“I was not with the president in 1996,” Gibbs said. “I was younger and thinner back then — same shoe size. I would simply say that throughout the campaign of 2004 and the campaign of 2008, he’s made his position clear on that.”
Pressed on whether Obama had a “political motivation” for changing his position on marriage equality, Gibbs deferred to his previous answer.
In 1996, while campaigning for an Illinois Senate seat, Obama indicated his support on a candidate questionnaire for what is now the Windy City Times, writing, “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.”
A number of LGBT advocates are pushing Obama to speak out in favor of same-sex marriage as some states — such as Rhode Island and Maryland — could see advances in marriage rights, while others — such as New Hampshire — could see a rollback.
Asked whether the president would “re-claim” his support for same-sex marriage before the 2012 election, Gibbs replied, “I’m not in the business of predicting.”
“I think we’ve seen this president be clearly committed to the issue of equality and justice,” Gibbs added. “I can’t speak to 2012. I can speak to 2011 as a year in which a policy like ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ will end.”
Obama’s current position is that marriage should be reserved for one man and one woman, although he supports civil unions. Still, the president has suggested his position could “evolve” on the matter and said last month he’s “wrestling” with the idea of marriage rights for gay couples.
Although he opposes same-sex marriage, Obama as a U.S. senator voted against a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and said he supports full repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex unions.
A partial transcript of the exchange between the Blade and Gibbs follows:
Washington Blade: Robert, I want to follow-up on the issue of marriage and the president’s 1996 statement. I’ll read it again: “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages,and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.” Why has the president abandoned this position?
Robert Gibbs: I can simply — I was not with the president in 1996. I was younger and thinner back then — same shoe size. I would simply say that throughout the campaign of 2004 and the campaign of 2008, he’s made his position clear on that.
Blade: Was there a political motivation for the president to drop his support for same-sex marriage as he pursued higher office?
Gibbs: Again, I would refer you to my previous answer.
Blade: I have a follow-up question.
Gibbs: That’s two, actually, but go ahead. We’ll — I’ll entertain the second.
Blade: Will the president re-claim his support for same-sex marriage before the 2012 election?
Gibbs: [Laughs] I’m not in the business of predicting. I think we’ve seen this president be clearly committed to issues of equality and justice. That’s why — I can’t speak to 2012. I can speak to 2011 as a year in which a policy like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will end.