The debate over gay rights is reigniting as the race for the White House heats up, and recent remarks have put President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney on the defensive. Sadly, though, it didn’t have to be this way. Both campaigns missed a golden opportunity to stand up and show some courage. Ironically, the one politician in the thick of the presidential race who did do that — initially, anyway — was Vice President Joe Biden, who is perhaps better-known for his gaffes than trailblazing political policy.
The debate over gay rights is reigniting as the race for the White House heats up, and recent remarks have put President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney on the defensive.
Sadly, though, it didn’t have to be this way. Both campaigns missed a golden opportunity to stand up and show some courage. Ironically, the one politician in the thick of the presidential race who did do that — initially, anyway — was Vice President Joe Biden, who is perhaps better-known for his gaffes than trailblazing political policy.
During an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Biden boldly expressed support for gay marriage — a position in contrast with Obama, who does not publicly support gay marriage but describes his personal feelings on the matter as “evolving.”
“I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men and women marrying one another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties,” Biden said. “And quite frankly, I don’t see much of a distinction beyond that.”
Gratified gay rights advocates were quick to praise Biden, a devout Catholic, for his heartfelt comments.
”I’m grateful that the vice president of the United States is now publicly supporting marriage equality and I hope very soon the president and the rest of our leaders, Republicans and Democrats in Congress, will fall in line with the vice president,” said Chad Griffin, a gay rights supporter and a member of the Obama campaign’s national finance committee.
The comments were especially well-received following the Romney campaign’s botched handling of the Richard Grenell situation last week. Grenell, a fierce conservative who had served as a spokesman for four American ambassadors at the United Nations during the Bush administration, was hired as Romney’s foreign policy spokesman — despite the fact that the campaign knew full well that Grenell was outspokenly gay, and an ardent supporter of gay marriage.
They reportedly told Grenell it wasn’t “an issue for us,” and what was important was his competency. However, when his hiring came under fire from the far right, Romney’s camp was suspiciously silent — and even went so far as to sideline Grenell.
“Despite the controversy in new media and in conservative circles, there was no public statement of support for Grenell by the campaign and no supportive social conservatives were enlisted to calm the waters,” noted staunch Romney supporter Jennifer Rubin, a conservative blogger for the Washington Post.
Faced with the knowledge his new employer would not stand up and defend him, Grenell resigned.
So when Biden spoke out in support of gay marriage just days later, the Obama administration could have seized its chance to build upon Obama’s admittedly admirable advancement of gay rights issues — a stark contrast to Romney’s own stance.
“On my watch, we fought hard and prevented Massachusetts from becoming the Las Vegas of gay marriage,” he said at the Feb. 10 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). “When I am president, I will preserve the Defense of Marriage Act and I will fight for a federal amendment defining marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman.”
But instead of going on the offense the Obama campaign dropped the ball, and gay rights supporters’ enthusiasm over Biden’s comments was short-lived — taking with it the momentum that could have energized the base. Obama senior campaign advisor David Axelrod soon sought to portray the statement as being about Biden’s belief that “all married couples should have exactly the same legal rights” — the same position that Obama holds.
Biden’s office, too, tried to spin the situation, saying the vice president was not endorsing gay marriage — he was simply reaffirming that he believed all American couples should be given the same rights and protections.
That sounds an awful lot like “separate but equal” to me, and as we learned during the civil rights movement more than 50 years ago, separate is never truly equal.
Amy Gehrt may be reached at email@example.com. The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the newspaper.