WASHINGTON -- Vice President Joe Biden became the highest-ranking official in the Obama administration to signal support for same-sex marriage on Sunday during an interview with "Meet The Press."
Biden stopped just a touch short from outright saying that he backs marriage equality. But the implication that he has completed the so-called evolution on gay marriage that President Barack Obama has yet to finish was beyond clear.
"And you're comfortable with same-sex marriage now?" "Meet the Press" host David Gregory asked.
"I am vice president of the United States of America," Biden replied. "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."
There is a distinction between civil unions and gay marriage, of course, and the transcript of the Biden interview doesn't make it clear if he distinguishing between the two or blurring those lines. He would go on to duck a question about whether the president would come out for same-sex marriage during the second term in office, offering only the following when asked if he'd like to see that happen.
The president continues to fight, whether it's Don't Ask, Don't Tell or whether it is making sure, across the board that you cannot discriminate. Look [at] the executive orders he's put in place: Any hospital that gets federal funding, which is almost all of them, they can't deny a partner from being able to have access to their partner who's ill or making the call on whether or not they -- you know -- it's just -- this is evolving.
And by the way, my measure, David, and 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. And I think -- people fear that which is different. Now they're beginning to understand.
Gay-rights leaders and much of the Democratic Party will cheer Biden's comments. But, as The Huffington Post reported several weeks ago, there remains some deep trepidation among the president's political advisers over endorsing same-sex marriage before the election is over.
Indeed, almost instantaneously, the Obama campaign was trying to slice a fine line on the vice president's remarks, declaring them no further along the evolutionary spectrum than where the president currently stands: "What VP said -- that all married couples should have exactly the same legal rights -- is precisely POTUS's position," tweeted David Axelrod, Obama's top political adviser.
Biden's office , however, would tell NBC's Chuck Todd, shortly after the "Meet the Press" interview concluded, that he was speaking on his own and not on behalf of the administration.
UPDATE: A spokesperson for the vice president further clarified the "Meet the Press" remarks, stating in part that Biden had not fully endorsed same-sex marriage.
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. That’s why we stopped defending the constitutionality of section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act in legal challenges and support legislation to repeal it. 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.
Biden never explicitly said that he backed marriage equality, but he implied it. The follow-up comments tamping down expectations and reports, from both the vice president's office and Axelrod, underscore just how tricky that implication remains.