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Bil Browning

Did Biden Just Come Out for Marriage Equality? Not Really

Filed By Bil Browning | May 06, 2012 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Media, Politics
Tags: Freedom to Marry, gay marriage, Igor Volsky, Joe Biden, marriage equality, same-sex marriage, Think Progress

Over at Think Progress, Igor Volsky has put up a post entitled, "BREAKING: Joe Biden Endorses Same-Sex Marriage" after the Vice President appeared on Meet The Press and made a vague statement of support for same-sex relationships. Nevermind, the incorrect use of the "BREAKING" tag bigstock-Gay-Wedding-5146856.jpgsince it was another outlet's reporter that got the statement, the worst part is that it's just not true.

Here's what Biden said as reported by Volsky:

The good news is that as more and more Americans come to understand what this is all about is a simple proposition. Who do you love? Who do you love and will you be loyal to the person you love? And that's what people are finding out what all marriages at their root are about. Whether they are marriages of lesbians or gay men or heterosexuals.
Look, I am Vice President of the United States of America. The president sets the policy. I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men marrying women are entitled to the same exact rights. All the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And quite frankly I don't see much of a distinction beyond that. [...] I think Will & Grace probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody has done so far. People fear that is different and now they're beginning to understand.

While it's easy to read between the lines and come to the conclusion that Biden is endorsing the freedom to marry - especially considering his past support for the LGBT community - it's important to keep in mind exactly what the Vice President said and what we want to hear. The two are not necessarily aligned.

The Obama campaign has already started pointing out the nuance of what Biden said and the disconnect between what the media is reporting in a breathless frenzy.

David Axelrod has taken to Twitter to say, "What VP said - that all married couples should have exactly the same legal rights - is precisely POTUS's position."

A campaign spokesman gave Politico this statement: "The Vice President was saying what the President has said previously-that committed and loving same-sex couples deserve the same rights and protections enjoyed by all Americans, and that we oppose any effort to rollback those rights."

While Think Progress calls this "walk[ing] back Biden's remarks," the sharp reality is that they're right. The Veeps statement is exactly the same thing Obama has been saying since he ran for president.

Looking at this objectively, both the President and Vice President have said they don't have a problem with gays and lesbians marrying in states that solemnize our relationships legally. They've also both opposed constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage of civil unions; the campaign has issued statements condemning amendment battles in North Carolina, Minnesota, and during California's Prop 8 battle. The administration has stopped defending DOMA in court and loudly said they consider it unconstitutional.

Both have supported civil unions which give us the benefits of marriage without the license. Is it second-class citizenship? You betcha. But it's a level of support many Americans endorse as well. Is it full marriage equality? No, it's not.

The administration is threading the eye of a needle on this one. As Volsky notes in his piece, the Vice President sought common ground with Sarah Palin during the 2008 Veep debates by pointing out that both believe "there should be no civil rights distinction, none whatsoever between a committed gay couple and a committed heterosexual couple."

The President has told the LGBT community that he is "evolving" on marriage equality and it sounds like the Vice President is too. Only a couple of years ago, Biden told George Stephanopoulos, "I think the country is evolving. I think there's an inevitability for a national consensus on gay marriage. That is my view. But this is the president's policy. But it is evolving. I think the country is evolving. I remember the first time he met with the Joint Chiefs, I was with him. He said, 'Gentleman, I want you to prepare now. I want to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' And so he prepared the ground so that it was so widely accepted as it is today by the military. And I think the same thing is happening across the country with regard to the issue of marriage."

The Vice President - and President Obama - are correct when they say that the country is evolving on our freedom to marry. That sea change is happening quite quickly, but the truth of the matter remains that the majority do not support marriage equality - they support civil unions by a much larger margin.

Both of them - Biden and Obama - have signaled quite clearly that their stances are headed toward full marriage equality. Sadly, it hasn't made that mark yet. This isn't support for the freedom to marry. It's another attempt to have their cake and eat it too.

This is, quite simply, a dog whistle for the LGBT community. We can hear it, but the American citizenry won't. They'll hear what I'm hearing... someone who's coming to the same conclusions they are, but just isn't willing to say it outright yet.

Vice President Biden's personal positions on marriage aren't the end-all-be-all of our rights. As he rightly points out, he doesn't set the policy. The President does. Until Obama finishes his evolution, the Vice President could reenact every episode of Will & Grace like Dustin Lance Black does the Prop 8 trial in 8 and it won't matter one whit.

Whoever gets President Obama to say he supports full marriage equality for same-sex couples will have "breaking" news. This is just more of the same.

(Same-sex wedding clipart via Bigstock)

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