April 8, 2013 at 4:06 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Does Obama deserve credit for growing marriage equality support?
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the country deserves credit for Senate support for marriage equality (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the country deserves credit for Senate support of marriage equality. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said on Monday the “country deserves credit” for the recent trend of U.S. senators endorsing marriage equality when asked if President Obama was responsible for the sudden wave of support.

In response to a question from the Washington Blade on whether Obama deserves credit for setting a trend with his announcement in favor of marriage equality in May that allowed other public officials to follow suit, Carney redirected responsibility to the American people.

“The country deserves credit,” Carney said. “It’s been a remarkable evolution and represents an embrace of the basic principles of equality that the president feels strongly about, that Americans across the country feel strongly about. And I think I can safely say that the president hopes it continues.”

But Carney declined to criticize the Democratic U.S. senators who haven’t come out for marriage equality — now down to just Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) — when asked if they should make similar announcements.

“Obviously, each individual — whether an elected lawmaker or anyone else makes this evaluation, decision himself or herself,” Carney said. “So the president spoke about his views in that interview that you made reference to, and other lawmakers have been doing so recently as there have been other issues related to this being debated and discussed. But he was not — and is not — in a position to pass judgment on others, [but] simply to say what he believes very strongly.”

Carney made his remarks just moments before Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) issued a statement declaring his support for marriage equality, making him the 54th U.S. senator to come out in support of marriage rights for gay couples.

“After lengthy consideration, my views have evolved sufficiently to support marriage equality legislation,” Johnson said. “This position doesn’t require any religious denomination to alter any of its tenets; it simply forbids government from discrimination regarding who can marry whom.”

Just last week, six senators came out in favor of marriage equality: Sens. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.). Others who’ve recently made similar announcements are Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Kay Hagan (D-N.C.). Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska) also confirmed they support marriage equality.

Two of the remaining three Democratic senators who haven’t come out for marriage equality — Landrieu and Pryor — have recently made statements on the issue. The Blade is unaware of any recent public statements Manchin has made on the subject.

In a recent interview with CNN, Landrieu suggested that while she personally believes same-sex couples should be able to marry — saying “people should love who they love and marry who they want to marry” — she’s unable to officially take that position because her state has passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Landrieu is up for re-election next year in a state that’s consistently “red” in presidential elections.

“My state has a very strong constitutional amendment not only against gay marriage but against gay partnerships,” Landrieu said. “So I’m looking at the people of Louisiana trying to represent their interests,” she said.

A local media outlet in Arkansas, 5News, reported last week that Pryor was undecided on the issue of marriage equality, but the station subsequently reported that Pryor had issued a clarifying statement via email saying he opposes same-sex marriage and the issue on which he was undecided was benefits for gay couples. Like Landrieu, Pryor is up for re-election next year in a “red” state.

“I am opposed to gay marriage,” Pryor was quoted as saying. “In the interview with KFSM done on April 5, I also discussed whether gay couples should receive benefits if they work for the federal government. On the benefits issue, I said to ‘put me down in the undecided category.’  By that I meant that, depending on what the U.S. Supreme Court decides, I will evaluate whether federal benefits should be available to gay couples. Of course, I will consider the impact any extension of benefits would have on the federal budget.”

Another senator who hasn’t come out for marriage equality, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), has been closely watched because of her support for LGBT rights issues and leadership in the Senate on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal. In an interview last week with the Associated Press, Collins refused to state her position, saying “My philosophy has been to stay out of state issues.”

Watch the video of the Blade’s exchange with Carney here:

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

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