WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s election-year vagueness on gay marriage is coming under fresh scrutiny.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan broke ranks with the White House on Monday, stating his unequivocal support for same-sex marriage one day after Vice President Joe Biden suggested that he supported gay marriage as well.
Obama aides worked to manage any political fallout. They said the back-to-back remarks by two top administration officials represented personal viewpoints and were not part of a coordinated effort to lay groundwork for a shift in the president’s position. Obama aides also tried to use the latest flare-up in the gay-marriage debate to shine a light on GOP rival Mitt Romney’s history of equivocating on some gay-rights issues, an attempt to turn a potential political problem into an opportunity.
Obama, who supports most gay rights, has stopped short of backing gay marriage. Without clarification, he’s said for the past year and a half that his personal views on the matter are “evolving.”
The White House held firm on Monday to that position, which polls show puts the president increasingly at odds with his party and the majority of Americans on gay marriage. But with Biden and Duncan’s comments reinvigorating the debate, Obama is likely to face renewed pressure to clarify his views ahead of the November election.
Throughout his first term, he has sought to walk a fine line on same-sex marriage. He’s trying to satisfy rank-and-file Democrats by supporting a range of gay rights issues without alienating crucial independent voters who could be turned off by the emotional social issue.
The latest political dust-up over gay marriage came just before North Carolina voters were to weigh in on a ballot initiative that would ban gay marriage in that state. Obama opposes the ban, as does former President Bill Clinton, who has recorded automated phone calls ahead of the vote.