February 10, 2014 | by Chris Johnson
Carney on Michael Sam, Russia, DOJ announcement
White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney, Gay News, Washington Blade

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney addressed Michael Sam, Russia and Eric Holder’s announcement on Monday. (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas).

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Monday responded to the multiple LGBT news stories that broke over the weekend, including Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam’s decision to come out as gay.

In addition to inquiries about Sam, Carney over the course of his regular briefing fielded questions on Russia’s handling of the Olympics and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement extending rights to married same-sex couples.

In the aftermath of Sam’s decision to come out as gay and potentially be the National Football League’s first out player, the Associated Press’ Julie Pace asked if the president had any response.

Carney said he had nothing to provide directly from Obama other than to say his views are in line with the support that first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden expressed on Twitter.

“I have nothing specifically from the president at this time except to say that he shares the sentiments expressed by the first lady and the vice president and so many others in marveling at his courage, and congratulating him on the decisions he’s made, with the support he’s had from his team, and wishing him well in the future, including in professional football,” Carney said.

Asked to comment on the talk that coming out would impair Sam’s chances of finding a team, Carney said any player should be judged on his performance.

“Without having this be a reflection of the conversation with the president, I can tell you that in general that it is his view it should not have an effect,” Carney said. “Any athlete’s abilities should be measured by what — in a traditional way in terms of how he or she performs in the sport, and on the field in this case. And in this case, his performance has been exceptional.”

Following Sam’s announcement that he is gay, he fell 70 slots on CBS’ draft prospect board overnight. He’s now listed at 110, although CBS had him at 160 the next morning.

When the Washington Blade noted during the briefing that President Obama called NBA player Jason Collins on the phone last year after he came out, but apparently didn’t do the same for Sam, Carney replied, “I just don’t have any updates for you on the president.”

Asked by the Blade why Obama would reach out to Collins when he came out, but not Sam, Carney would neither confirm nor deny a phone call will take place.

“I don’t have anything on the president’s schedule right now,” Carney said.

With regard to Russian LGBT protests during the Olympics, Carney said in response to a Blade question the administration has already expressed its views on the crackdown against those in Russia.

“I think broadly speaking in terms of the matter of LGBT rights in Russia, the president has been very clear,” Carney said. “I think he was clear in his interview with Bob Costas at NBC on the evening of the opening ceremonies. So, we strongly express our views when it comes to any crackdown on those who are expressing their opinions peacefully, but I don’t have anything specific with regards to the games themselves on these matters, and our views on that matter haven’t changed.”

According to a tally in the New York Times, at least 61 individuals on the first day of the Olympics were arrested nationwide in Russia for protesting. At least 10 were arrested for demonstrating in favor of LGBT rights and say they were subjected to harsh treatment by police, including threats of sexual assault.

On Thursday, President Obama said in an interview with NBC News “there is no doubt” he included openly gay people as part of the U.S. delegation to the Olympics to demonstrate the United States doesn’t abide by discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation.

Also coming up during the briefing was Holder’s announcement that the Justice Department would extend additional rights to married same-sex couples, such as the ability to file jointly for bankruptcy and refuse to testify against a spouse in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act.

Calling the change a “substantive policy decision,” Fox News’ Ed Henry noted that Holder pledged the Justice Department would extend benefits to married same-sex couples to the furthest extent possible across the country, even in non-marriage equality states, and asked for the president’s views.

“I would refer you to the Department of Justice for specifics of that,” Carney replied.

But maintaining the announcement was “a pretty important policy announcement from the administration” Henry asked how important this policy decision was to the president.

“That American citizens enjoy equal rights?” Carney replied. “Pretty important. Profoundly so.”

Arguably as evidenced by the question from Fox News, the announcement from Holder received criticism from conservative groups and significant attention from mainstream media outlets, some of which referred to the change as “sweeping.”

Asked by the Blade if the administration was surprised by the media reaction, Carney refused to characterize the response.

“I don’t have a characterization to make about the coverage or the reaction except to say the president believes every American ought to be afforded equal rights, and he certainly supports that instance of his view, or actions taken that reflect his view in this case,” Carney said.

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

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