March 8, 2012 | by Chris Johnson
Is Obama abdicating party leadership on marriage?

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

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney deflected a series of questions Thursday on whether President Obama is deferring his role as party leader by withholding support for same-sex marriage as other Democrats vocally support it.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, Carney dodged in terms of what the president’s lack of support for same-sex marriage means for party leadership and said Obama isn’t involved in Democratic Party platform development.

“I can tell you that he is not engaged in the very early stages of what I understand to be platform development, and I would refer you simply to discussions the folks you mentioned are having,” Carney said. “But the president’s position hasn’t changed, so I have no new announcements to make in on it.”

Democratic National Convention chair Antonio Villaraigosa on Wednesday announced support for including marriage equality in the Democratic Party platform. In an exclusive Washington Blade report, 22 U.S. senators last week announced they support the idea of including such a plank in the platform. Meanwhile, Obama has been evolving on same-sex marriage for nearly 17 months.

Pressed by the Blade on whether Obama is missing an opportunity to lead not just the Democratic Party, but the country as a whole, Carney stood his ground, saying, “I appreciate the question. I just don’t have anything new to report to you on it.”

Obama first said he could “evolve” to support marriage equality in October 2010 during an interview with progressive bloggers in response to a question from AMERICAblog’s Joe Sudbay. In 1996, Obama said he supported marriage equality in a questionnaire response to what is now the Windy City Times, saying, “I favor legalizing same-sex marriage, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages,” but that position later changed.

In response to further questioning, Carney declined to identify what is preventing Obama from completing this evolution, or whether fear of political backlash or the president’s faith is playing a role in blocking him from announcing support.

“Look, I will leave it to president — perhaps he wasn’t about asked about this — maybe the next time he gives a press conference, one of you can ask him about it,” Carney said. “It’s entirely up to you if you want to be told, which you might be, that he doesn’t have any news to make on it, but I really have no update for you.”

On Tuesday, President Obama held a news conference at the White House. Reporters asked about the Republican presidential primary, the development of nuclear weapons in Iran and conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh calling activist Sandra Fluke a “slut,” but no question came up on marriage.

Carney also had no comment on the timing for when Obama would complete his evolution or whether it would happen in time to help the pro-LGBT side in marriage equality fights at the ballot in as many as five states this year: North Carolina, Minnesota, Maine, Maryland and Washington State.

“That’s a circuitous way of asking the same question,” Carney said. “And just don’t have any news for you on the president’s position.”

Washington Blade: Thanks, Jay. Democrats in support of same-sex marriage are speaking more loudly on the issue. 22 U.S. senators have told me they support the idea of including a marriage equality plank in the Democratic Party platform. And yesterday, Democratic National Convention chair Antonio Villaraigosa also said he backs such language, saying, “I think it’s basic to who we are.” By being in a state of evolution now on this issue for nearly 17 months, is the president deferring leadership of his own party?

Jay Carney: No, Chris. I can tell you that he is not engaged in the very early stages of what I understand to be platform development, and I would refer you simply to discussions the folks you mentioned are having. But the president’s position hasn’t changed, so I have no new announcements to make in on it.

Blade: But by being in this state of evolution, I mean, the president is missing an opportunity to lead, not just for the Democratic Party, but for the country as a whole.

Carney: I appreciate the question. I just don’t have anything new to report to you on it.

Blade: Just to follow up on that, can you identify what is obstructing the president from completing his evolution on this issue? Is there some sort of fear of political backlash during an election year? You mentioned something before about this process involving the president’s faith.

Carney: …Look, I will leave it to president — perhaps he wasn’t about asked about this — maybe the next time he gives a press conference, one of you can ask him about it. It’s entirely up to you if you want to be told, which you might be, that he doesn’t have any news to make on it, but I really have no update for you.

Blade: One last question on this. Marriage is going to be on the ballot for voters in as many as five states this year. In North Carolina, that’s going to come before voters in May. Will the president announce [support for] same-sex marriage before it’s too late to help start conversations and help gay and lesbian couples are seeking to get married in these states?

Carney: That’s a circuitous way of asking the same question. And just don’t have any news for you on the president’s position.

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

4 Comments
  • We progressives just can’t resist handing over this sure-winner issue for the Republicans in 2012. There’s no question that Obama coming out full-steam for marriage equality will be a net loser for his reelection chances. Democrats and Independents who will withhold their votes for the President absent his unequivocal endorsement of marriage equality are idiots. Ignore them.

    Be strategic, as our enemies are.

    Stop pressing Obama on this, at this point in his reelection campaign.

  • I may not withold my vote for him, yet I will also not campaign door to door, or phone bank for him either. He needs to act like a man and act courageously for what is just and right, regardless of the consequences. Enough of watching his obvious sitting on the picket fence (ouch..that must hurt..), and taking credit for such things as DADT repeal. He’d have all of our community out to vote for him if he just followed his “evolving” views to include civil rights and equality for all…no if, ands, or buts.

  • it is pure politics at this point. Obama will still say that marriage is between a man and a woman until he gets re-elected. If he gets relected, he will gladly come out and endorse gay marriage….

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