May 10, 2012 | by Chris Johnson
Still more marriage questions for Carney

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

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney faced new questions on marriage Thursday in the first time the spokesperson publicly talked to reporters following President Obama’s announcement in support of same-sex marriage.

In a press gaggle abord Air Force One en route to Seattle, Carney declined to answer inquiries on whether Obama wants to see an inclusion of same-sex marriage in the Democratic Party platform, nor would he would say whether Obama will commit to helping with efforts to pass same-sex marriage in states.

Asked whether Obama will move toward having “pro-gay marriage language in the Democratic national platform,” Carney deferred to the Democratic National Committee.

“Well, party platform issues are for the party to decide,” Carney said. “That process is underway, and I refer you to the DNC on the question about the platform.”

Carney similarly dodged in response to a question on whether Obama will be “outspoken when these issues come up in states” deliberating same-sex marriage.

“I’m not going to speculate about what he may say or statements he might issue,” Carney said. “He has on occasion made his position known on actions by individual states, most recently in North Carolina, and I’m sure that continues to be the case. That will continue to be the case.”

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, said in response to Carney’s answer on the Democratic platform that those crafting the document should listen the president’s endorsement of same-sex marriage on Wednesday.

“Freedom to Marry’s call for a freedom to marry plank in the Democratic Party — a call that has won huge support from former party chairs, the convention chair, leaders in Congress, 22 senators, and over 40,000 signers on our online petition — continues full force,” Wolfson said. “The Democratic Party should do what the president did so beautifully yesterday: stand for the freedom to marry.”

Wolfson similarly said the onus is on supporters or marriage equality to advance same-sex marriage throughout the nation in the wake of Obama’s endorsement.

“We know that the president’s strong voice and clear message yesterday will have an enormous and ongoing effect in helping people wrestling with this question rise to fairness,” Wolfson said. “It’s the job of all the rest of us to go out and have the conversations that he described so well as helping change his mind.”

John Aravosis, who’s gay and editor of AMERICAblog, said he’s OK with giving Obama a short break after his endorsement of same-sex marriage, but wants to see further action from the president.

“I’m happy to give the president twenty-four hours of honeymoon before I start demanding he do more on marriage, but I do think the community will expect him, and the party, to follow through on his support of same-sex marriage,” Aravosis said. “And that would mean adding marriage equality to the party platform and speaking out more aggressively against anti-gay measures in the states, including those concerning marriage.”

Carney also took questions on the web video ad the Obama campaign on Thursday hyping Obama’s newfound support of same-sex marriage and criticizing Romney for supporting a Federal Marriage Amendment and not even supporting civil unions.

A transcript of the exchange between reporters and Carney during the gaggle follows:

Q: Jay, today the Obama campaign put out a web video that’s attacking Romney on his stance on rights for same-sex couples. Given that the President just came around on this, on the issue of gay marriage yesterday, doesn’t that seem hypocritical and politically motivated more than anything?

Carney: Well, I would refer you to the campaign to talk about ads or videos that they put out.  The president noted in his interview when it came up yesterday with Robin Roberts of ABC, that his opponent, Governor Romney, has a starkly different view of these issues, and a starkly different view of the policy issues, even prior to the president’s announcement yesterday that he had come to the conclusion that he personally supports same-sex marriage.

Gov. Romney is for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would enshrine discrimination into our founding legal document. The president thinks that’s wrong. So their positions were starkly different before yesterday.

Q: The campaign or the president –

Carney: If you want to ask the campaign about its tactics I think you ought to ask the campaign about its tactics. The president was very clear in his interview with Robin Roberts about what his personal beliefs are. The president’s record on these issues of supporting LGBT rights is long and impressive and clear, and he’ll continue to fight to expand and protect the rights of all American citizens.

Q: Can you tell us whom — after he gave his interview, to whom has the president spoken personally, both on the gay advocacy side, and also perhaps on the other side in terms of any religious leaders or people who might want to get an explanation from him about his stance?

Carney:  I don’t have any conversations of the president to read out to you. The president had quite a busy day yesterday, and it continued to be busy after his interview.

Q: And do you suspect that at any point he would just point that out?

Carney: I wouldn’t — I couldn’t predict on that.

Q: Is the president excited to talk about this issue tonight now that he’s going to be doing a fundraiser in California among probably a lot of people who are very supportive of gay marriage? This is sort of the first chance he’ll have to talk about it since revealing his view.

Carney: I think the President has always been clear about his support for LGBT rights and the actions that he’s taken, including repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell”; the fact that he has long opposed the Defense of Marriage Act; the fact that he and the Attorney General, and therefore the administration, have deemed Section 3 of DOMA to be unconstitutional, and therefore the decision not to continue to defend it.

But look, the President’s focus, as I think he also said yesterday in his interview, has been and will continue to be on jobs and the economy.  That’s been the — creating greater security for a middle class in this country that has been under stress for a long time, even predating the Great Recession, has been number-one priority.  It was his number-one priority when he ran for office, for this office, and it has been his priority since he took the oath of office.  And I think you will hear him focus on those issues just as he has — going forward, just as he has in the past.

Q: Will he move to repeal DOMA officially, and have pro-gay marriage language in the Democratic national platform?

Carney: Well, party platform issues are for the party to decide. That process is underway, and I refer you to the DNC on the question about the platform.

The president’s belief that DOMA ought to be repealed is well stated. I’m not aware of the status of the legislative efforts aimed at repeal, but the president certainly supports that and has for quite a long time. I would note that he opposed DOMA back in 1996 and has opposed it ever since.

Q: Why not repeal it?

Carney: He believes it should be repealed.

Q: But why doesn’t he push to repeal to it?

Carney: I said it every time I’ve been asked about the President’s record on the Defense of Marriage Act. I mean, it’s not a “why not” question, it’s a “yes, we know” answer.

Q: Jay, the President is saying that this is a — and the White House is saying this is a states’ issue now. But will the President be outspoken when these issues come up in states about whether they should pass or not?

Carney: I’m not going to speculate about what he may say or statements he might issue. He has on occasion made his position known on actions by individual states, most recently in North Carolina, and I’m sure that continues to be the case. That will continue to be the case.

But I can’t predict when that will take place or with regards to what state issue. The president believes it is a matter for the states. He personally believes that gay and lesbian Americans ought to be able to — who are in committed, loving relationships ought to be able to marry.  But he also — and I think it’s important to note — is respectful of those who disagree. He, after all, traveled some distance to reach this personal decision, and he understands that the whole country has been considering this issue and struggling with it. And we’ve seen a remarkable evolution in the broader public with regards to LGBT rights in general, and specifically with regards to same-sex marriage.

Q: So if he respects people on the other side, why go after Romney?

Carney: You can respect somebody and strongly disagree. And he absolutely disagrees with efforts to — this is the distinction, Jim: He’s respectful of those who don’t agree with him on same-sex marriage. He vehemently disagrees with those who would act to deny Americans’ rights or act to take away rights that have been established in states. And that has been his position for quite a long time.

Q: Could you tell us — did he mention anything this morning at all about how he felt about the announcement yesterday or the impact it’s having so far?

Carney: I’m not going to read out internal discussions, but I think the President was glad to have the opportunity that he had yesterday to speak to the country about his views on this matter and about the journey he’s traveled on it — about the profound importance of equality, about the underlying principle that guided him as he came to this decision.

He cited the Golden Rule and the need to treat others as you would have them treat you.  He spoke about sort of the three areas that affected him as he was dealing with this and thinking about it:  conversations with friends and family and staff members, some of whom are in committed same-sex relationships.  The effect that conversations he had with members of our armed services during the fight to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell.”  And certainly his observation of and consideration of the various ways that states have been grappling with this issue, which he spoke about during his interview.

And I think those — all of those went into the process for him — a process that was a very personal one, as he discussed yesterday in his interview.

Q: When did the president came to that conclusion? I mean, we know he said to Robin Roberts in their interview that he had already decided to publicly take this position. So did he come to the conclusion weeks ago, months ago? When was that evolution complete?

Carney: I don’t have a specific date for you. Like I said, this was a very — this was not a policy debate within the White House or the administration. This was a personal decision about his personal views. I think it’s fair to say that within the last several months he had come to the decision that he talked about yesterday and had concluded that he wanted to convey his views on this to the American people sometime in the next several weeks or months. It wasn’t going to be this week, but because of the considerable focus on the issue this week, the President decided it might as well be this week.

Q: What effect did your — the grilling you got Monday at the briefing have on his sense of expediting this? Did he say anything to you about it?

Carney: I think — part of my job, and I think it reinforced the fact that this had become an issue that was getting a great deal of attention and focus, but certainly not about me.

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
  • Having extracted from Obama the marriage equality statement that many pundits (right and left) acknowledge may very well hurt his reelection chances, we will now proceed to making sure that every lunatic right-wing pastor, imam, priest, and rabbi in America has all the ammunition they need to energize and get their followers out to the polls in November.

    In our misguided fury to get Obama to do the “right” thing, we may very well have handed over the election to Mitt Romney, the next President of the United States, who will no doubt get to fill one or more Supreme Court vacancies.

    Congratulations.

    Well done, LGBT community.

  • With ALL the dodging and ducking, Jay Carney should play professional DODGEBALL!

  • Well, Steve, Pres. Lyndon Johnson, after he helped push the 1964 Civil Rights Act through Congress (that federally guaranteed civil rights protections in the United States for Black people) said that he believed that the Democratic Party had just lost the South for generations, but that it was the right thing to do. If President Johnson had your defeatist attitude, then Barack Obama would have probably never had the opportunity to even run for President.

  • ***
    In our misguided fury to get Obama to do the “right” thing, we may very well have handed over the election to Mitt Romney, the next President of the United States, who will no doubt get to fill one or more Supreme Court vacancies.
    ***
    Steve, a few weeks ago you were touting the ‘smarts’ of Obama’s campaign peeps. So, now that they have stopped looking goofy and inconsistent on marriage equality, you don’t think they’re so smart, huh?

    Seriously, relax, Steve. There is a whole SIX months journey of public education about the real Mitt Romney the Obama campaign has only now just embarked upon. And the great thing is that they can conduct that “many sides of Mitt” campaign with real video and audio of Romney himself and his ever-entertaining Republican primary season opponents.

    Meanwhile, an ENDA Executive Order, sooner rather than later, will smooth out Obama’s prior goofy inconsistency on that issue, too.

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