WASHINGTON -- Excitement quickly turned to frustration amongst gay rights activists on Sunday after the Obama team walked back Vice President Biden's remarks on NBC's "Meet the Press" that seemed to signal his endorsement of marriage equality.
When asked by host David Gregory on Sunday whether he is "comfortable with same-sex marriage now," Biden replied, "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 and women marrying another 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."
Biden's comments, which were stronger in support of marriage equality than any made by President Obama, were quickly hailed by LGBT groups.
"We are encouraged by Vice President Biden's comments, who rightly articulated that loving and committed gay and lesbian couples should be treated equally," responded Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign. "Now is the time for President Obama to speak out for full marriage equality for same-sex couples."
“I’ve known Vice President Biden since interning for him in the Senate in 1976," said Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry. "The personal and thoughtful way he has spoken about his coming to support the freedom to marry reflects the same journey that a majority of Americans have now made as they’ve gotten to know gay families, opened their hearts and changed their minds. President Obama should join the Vice President, former Presidents Clinton and Carter, former Vice Presidents Gore and Cheney, Laura Bush, and so many others in forthright support for the freedom to marry."
In his comments, Biden also praised the sitcom "Will and Grace" -- in which two of the main characters were openly gay -- saying, "I take a look at when things really begin to change, is when the social culture changes. I think 'Will and Grace' probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody's ever done so far."
Actress Debra Messing, who played Grace on the show, tweeted, "I'm thrilled Biden has come out in support of gay marriage and am beyond proud of what he said @ W&G #PROUD."
But the possibility of Biden becoming the highest-ranking U.S. official to endorse marriage equality was short-lived, as his office and the Obama campaign immediately walked back his comments, saying they were totally in line with the views of the president, who does not support full marriage equality rights.
"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. ... Beyond that, the vice president was expressing that he too is evolving on the issue, after meeting so many committed couples and families in this country," said a Biden spokesperson.
On Twitter, top Obama political adviser David Axelrod said, "What VP said-that all married couples should have exactly the same legal rights-is precisely POTUS's position."
Gay rights supporters reacted with frustration and disappointment to Axelrod's comments.
"David Axelrod is once again frantically trying to push gay stuff back in the closet. This is really quite ludicrous," tweeted Michelangelo Signorile, host of The Michelangelo Signorile Show on Sirius XM and editor-at-large of The Huffington Post's Gay Voices.
"All Axelrod's denial does is further tick the gays off while doing nothing to dispel the notion on the right that the president already embraces gay marriage," wrote prominent LGBT blogger John Aravosis on his site, AMERICAblog.
"Remember those 5 minutes when Biden was for gay marriage? Good times," quipped Chris Barron, founder of the Republican pro-gay rights group GOProud.
Winnie Stachelberg, executive vice president for external affairs at the Center for American Progress added, “We commend Vice President Biden for supporting marriage equality and call on President Obama to do the same. The campaign shouldn’t force Biden’s comments back into the closet, but should instead embrace the growing popular support for the freedom to marry.”
As The Huffington Post has reported, LGBT activists and supporters have been pushing for a pro-marriage equality provision in the Democratic platform. The call has been endorsed by public officials including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and nearly half of the Democratic senators.