Obama Campaign Seeks Middle Ground on Gay Marriage

While the White House touts the president's policies, Obama has yet to say he's for gay marriage.

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Thanks to a pair of top Obama administration officials recently pronouncing their support for it, the issue of gay marriage has rocketed into political headlines six months before Election Day.

Same-sex marriage advocates also say the issue could have implications during the presidential election, thanks in part to the number of states scheduled to hold referenda on related issues.

"We here at the [Human Rights Campaign] are saying that 2012 will be the year of marriage," says Fred Sainz, vice president of communications and marketing for the group, which bills itself as the largest civil rights organization promoting equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.

"Not since 2006 will as many voters be forced to come to terms with their personal opinions and emotions around marriage," he says. "The American public is going to be in a constant state of dialogue on this issue."

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Sainz says voters in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington will weigh in at the polls on either constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage or referenda on pro-gay marriage laws. Additionally, North Carolina voters are widely expected to vote Tuesday in support of a measure that bans same-sex marriage and civil unions.

But despite the attention paid to Vice President Joe Biden's statement on Sunday that he supports same-sex marriage, a position echoed Monday morning by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, no one seems to expect any pronouncements from the president himself—at least prior to the election.

Gay marriage supporters widely believe Obama and his re-election campaign see more harm in publicly supporting their position than not, despite national polling that shows a majority of Americans in support of it. A recent poll depicting Obama and his likely GOP rival Mitt Romney in a dead heat in a swath of battleground states only proved to highlight how fiercely contested the presidential race will be.

So while senior officials in both the current administration and 2012 campaign tried to downplay any perceived difference between Biden's position and that of Obama—who stated in a 2010 interview that his position was "evolving"—the perception among political analysts is that the president is attempting to get all the credit for supporting gay rights without incurring a political penalty among more conservative independent voters.

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"In terms of the vice president's remarks, I think they were entirely consistent with the president's position that couples who are married, whether they are gay or heterosexual couples, are entitled to the very same rights and very same liberties," said David Axelrod, a top Obama campaign adviser, during a Monday conference call with reporters.

Axelrod also sought to differentiate Obama's position from that Romney, as well.

"There couldn't be a starker contrast on this issue than with Gov. Romney … there's a very clear distinction in this race," he said. Romney has said he opposes same-sex marriage.

During a particularly feisty White House press briefing, press secretary Jay Carney repeatedly listed off gay-friendly policy positions or accomplishments achieved by the president, while at the same time declining to shed new light on Obama's stance.

"The president has said his personal views on this were evolving," Carney said. "He strongly opposes efforts to restrict rights, to repeal rights for same-sex couples. I think it's a statement of obvious fact that full enjoyment of rights by LGBT citizens has not been achieved uniformly across the country, and that's why he has taken a stand in opposition to efforts in some states to deny those rights and to discriminate against LGBT citizens."

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Carney cited the administration's decision to no longer defend a federal policy that defines marriage as between one man and one woman, the repeal of the military's 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy that banned openly gay people from serving in the military, as well as support for a federal non-discrimination policy that includes rights for gays and lesbians.