June 20, 2011 | by Chris Johnson
Carney questioned on Obama’s 1996 support for marriage

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Monday addressed questions about President Obama’s 1996 support of same-sex marriage, just days before the president is scheduled to attend an LGBT campaign fundraiser in New York.

Under questioning during a news conference from the Washington Blade, Carney wouldn’t confirm whether Obama supported same-sex marriage in 1996 in accordance with a questionnaire response.

“What I know is what his position was during the campaign and what it is now,” Carney said. “He’s been very clear about it. He was very clear in the campaign. He was very clear about the fact that his position on the views — that it’s evolving. And I really don’t have anything to add to it.”

When he was running to become an Illinois state senator in 1996, Obama stated in a questionnaire response to what is now the Windy City Times newspaper that he supports same-sex marriage. Obama wrote, “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.” Carney said Monday he believed that Obama had signed the statement himself.

Last week, the questionnaire response was brought up during a question-and-answer session with White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer at the Netroots Nation convention in Minneapolis. Pfeiffer suggested the questionnaire response was not written by Obama when he said the survey “was actually filled out by someone else, not the president.”

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, later issued a statement clarifying that Pfeiffer “was not familiar with the history of the questionnaire.”

Carney on Monday reasserted Pfeiffer had been mistaken last week when talking about the 1996 statement under questioning from the Blade.

“I think you know because you’ve read it multiple times since then that we’ve corrected it beginning Friday that he — that that is not the case, that he was mistaking that with another questionnaire,” Carney said. “The president’s position on gay marriage has been clear since ’08 — is clear, again, since he’s been president.”

The issue of same-sex marriage is also receiving renewed attention because the New York State Senate could be on the verge of passing legislation to enact marriage equality by the end of this week. Asked by the Washington Post about the president’s views on the pending marriage bill, Carney replied, “I haven’t heard any expressed about that.”

“He obviously addressed this at the press conference at the end of last year, and I don’t have an update on his position,” Carney said.

Since he pursued a seat in the U.S. Senate seat in 2004, Obama has said he believes marriage is between one man and one woman, although he supports civil unions. Late last year, Obama suggested his position on same-sex marriage could “evolve,” but he hasn’t come out in support of marriage equality.

Pressure on Obama to support same-sex marriage will likely increase as the 2012 election approaches and he begins seeking greater LGBT support and donations to help win re-election. On Thursday, the president is set to attend an LGBT fundraiser in New York City. Next week, the White House is set to hold a reception to observe June as the Pride month.

Asked by the Blade whether Obama was selling these audiences short by seeking their support for his campaign and not supporting their right to marry, Carney replied, “I think you know that this president is very supportive of and strong on LGBT rights. And his record is significant with regard to that. He’s been very clear about his position on gay marriage, he’s been very clear about how that position is evolving. I don’t have any new announcements to make, but I think you know his record, and he’s proud of it.”

Carney was skeptical that Obama would endorse marriage equality in time to celebrate the potential legalization of same-sex marriage in the Empire State at the upcoming fundraiser in New York City.

“I don’t anticipate that,” Carney said.

A partial transcript of the exchange between Blade and Post reporters and Carney on the marriage issue follows:

Washington Post: What are the president’s views on the gay marriage bill in New York?

Jay Carney: I haven’t heard any expressed about that.

Washington Post: …Evolving?

National Public Radio: Yeah, yeah. How’s his evolution going?

Carney: He obviously addressed this at the press conference at the end of last year, and I don’t have an update on his position.

….

Washington Blade: Jay, I just want to follow up on remarks that Dan Pfeiffer made last week on the president’s 1996 questionnaire response on marriage. The statement from the president in 1996 reads, “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibits such marriages.” Pfeiffer said someone else filled out this questionnaire for the president. Can you confirm that it’s the White House’s position that someone else filled out this questionnaire and —

Carney: Chris, I think you know because you’ve read it multiple times since then that we’ve corrected it beginning Friday that he — that that is not the case, that he was mistaking with another questionnaire.

The president’s position on gay marriage has been clear since ’08 — is clear, again, since he’s been president.

Blade: But did the president, in fact, support same-sex marriage in 1996?

Carney: Again, what I know is what his position was during the campaign and what it is now. He’s been very clear about it. He was very clear in the campaign. He was very clear about the fact that his position on the views — that it’s evolving. And I really don’t have anything to add to it.

Blade: On Thursday, the president is attending an LGBT fundraiser in New York. This state could have same-sex marriage by the end of this week. It’s very possible. Next week, he’s hosting a Pride reception here at the White House. Isn’t the president selling this audience short by saying he supports them and wants their money for his re-election campaign, but also saying at the same time he does not support their right to marry?

Carney: Chris, I think you know that this president is very supportive of and strong on LGBT rights. And his record is significant with regard to that. He’s been very clear about his position on gay marriage, he’s been very clear about how that position is evolving. I don’t have any new announcements to make, but I think you know his record, and he’s proud of it.

Blade: Just a quick follow up question on that. … You said before you don’t have an update right now on the president’s position on same-sex marriage, but is it possible that the president will come to conclusion on this evolution by Thursday to make an announcement at the fundraiser?

Carney: I don’t anticipate that, Chris.

Check out the video (via ThinkProgress)

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

5 Comments
  • Poor Carney. While he isn’t, and will not likely be, well thought of as a press secretary, I feel for him on this matter. Barry doesn’t seem to have a definitive answer to anything. He takes a minimum of 12 hours and had to “sleep on” his decision whether to go after Osama notwithstanding the compelling evidence bin Laden was at the location. Barry has no idea how to resolve our fiscal disaster and other domestic and international challenges, and Hillary is fed up with him for his indecisiveness. Bottom line: Barry will determine which is more politically advantageous based on whether he wants the gay vote or the fundamentalist black church-going vote in 2012. Period.

    • The Black Church????? Honey what about those white bigots..Have you been watching the NY marriage vote? Those are Caucasians that holding hostage. Oh yeah Gay Marriage is valid in a majority Black stronghold The District of Columbia!

  • Political expediency. Cowardly. Flip-flopping on a host of topical issues. This self described “fierce advocate” has a serious credibility problem among other things. I’ve no hope that giving this leader (who has failed to deliver on the vast majority of his promises – and has moved backwards on alarming number) another 4 years will make mine, my family or the lives of other citizens better.

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