White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs today dodged a question about whether President Obama has “backtracked” from his earlier support of same-sex marriage.
In 1996, while campaigning for an Illinois Senate seat, Obama indicated his support on a candidate questionnaire for the Windy City Times, writing, “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.”
Asked today about the questionnaire by the Washington Blade, Gibbs declined to address it directly.
“I think there’s a whole host of issues that I would direct you to the campaign on — on different questionnaires and I would again reiterate what the president has said recently on that issue,” Gibbs said.
Asked whether he questions the accuracy of the 1996 questionnaire response, Gibbs replied, “Again, I’m happy to send you the several thousand clips of which went around during the course of 2008 on a whole host of those issues.”
Following his response to the second Blade question, Gibbs said, “Thanks guys,” seeming to indicate that he would take no more questions. Gibbs stayed at the podium after reporters in the White House press corps pressed him to take more questions.
Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, clarified that press briefings traditionally wrap up when the AP reporter signals an end to the briefing.
“As the transcript clearly shows, the AP reporter noted the end of the press briefing with the customary ‘thank you.’ Even after that, Gibbs did stay on to take 18 additional questions,” Inouye said. ” To suggest that he would step away from the podium before the briefing is over is not only wrong, it’s offensive.”
In the 1996 questionnaire response, Obama unequivocally stated his support for same-sex marriage, which is different from his current position on the issue. His position since has been that marriage should be reserved for one man and one woman. 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.
“Like a lot of people, I’m wrestling with this,” Obama said in an interview last month with The Advocate. “I’ve wrestled with the fact that marriage traditionally has had a different connotation. But I also have a lot of very close friends who are married gay or lesbian 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.
Later during the conference, Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher asked whether the president has finally reached some new position on same-sex marriage or would address the issue during the State of the Union address on Tuesday.
“As I said earlier, I don’t have an update to what — to reiterating that it’s something that he thinks a lot about,” Gibbs said.
A number of gay rights supporters have called on Obama to declare support for same-sex marriage during the State of the Union address. On Sunday, the New York Times published an editorial from gay political pundit and sex columnist Dan Savage, who urged the president to address marriage rights for gay couples during the speech.
A partial transcript of the exchange with Gibbs over the marriage issue follows:
Washington Blade: Back in 1996, when the president was running to become an Illinois state senator, he stated in questionnaire response to what is now the Windy City Times that he supports same-sex marriage. He wrote, “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.” That’s not the president’s current position. He has backtracked on a earlier commitment he made to gay and lesbian Americans?
Robert Gibbs: I think there’s a whole host of issues that I would direct you to the campaign on — on different questionnaires and I would again reiterate what the president has said recently on that issue.
Blade: But do you dispute the accuracy of this questionnaire response?
Gibbs: Again, I’m happy to send you the several thousand clips of which went around during the course of 2008 on a whole host of those issues.
Mediaite: I asked you last week if the president was going to talk about repealing DOMA or about same-sex marriage in the [State of the Union] speech. And you know, if you want to volunteer an answer on that you can, but I also asked you —
Gibbs: I’ll volunteer that as I told, Keith, it’s around 9:05 tomorrow —
Mediaite: My follow-up is —
Gibbs: Your follow-up to my non-answer?
Mediaite: I also asked you if the president — he said his personal view on same-sex marriage is evolving and so I wanted to follow-up and see has he come to a new personal view —
Gibbs: As I said earlier, I don’t have an update to what — to reiterating that it’s something that he thinks a lot about.
Mediaite: Do you know when he might speak about that if he’s not going to speak about it —
Gibbs: I don’t.