Biden referenced the television appearance in his own remarks at the signing ceremony. “Ten years ago, I got into trouble,” he said. He was vice president at the time and publicly endorsed gay marriage before then-President Barack Obama.
The White House did not play any footage of another Biden Meet the Press interview from 2006. “Marriage is between a man and a woman and states must respect that,” he said.
In fact, the White House has airbrushed the first interview out of history. “And he said something that, really, no other national elected official was saying at the time: that marriage is a proposition,” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said of the later Meet the Press interview. “And it’s about, you know, who you love, but if you are going — I’m going to mess up his quote — but who you love, but also about if you’re going to be loyal to that person.”
“And he has always been an ally,” Jean-Pierre continued. In September, she went a step further.
“And this is an issue, when it comes to marriage equality, that he has supported through — through his Senate days and as VP and now as president,” Biden’s press secretary said.
This isn’t true. Biden opposed same-sex marriage when he and Obama were first elected in 2008. He opposed it when he was running against Obama for the Democratic nomination. He opposed it in the earlier Meet the Press interview. And he opposed it in the United States Senate.
“Technically, the Defense of Marriage Act from the 1990s was still on the books but essentially dormant because of the Obergefell decision,” Jean-Pierre told reporters later in Tuesday’s briefing as she explained what the Respect for Marriage Act would do. “This repeals DOMA and ensures federal recognition of same-sex marriages.”
Biden voted for the Defense of Marriage Act as a senator from Delaware in 1996. It prevented federal recognition of same-sex marriages and allowed states to do the same for same-sex marriages performed in other states.
If Biden changed his mind about same-sex marriage, he was hardly alone. When Biden voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, a Gallup poll found only 27% of Americans supported same-sex marriage. In June, 71% did.
The Defense of Marriage Act passed the Senate by a vote of 85 to 14. The House vote for its enactment was 342 to 65. President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, signed it into law. Biden wasn’t alone here either.
But the truth matters. Biden’s views on same-sex marriage have never been cutting edge. When majorities opposed it, so did he. Once support for same-sex marriage became the mainstream Democratic position, Biden adopted it.
That is why Biden “got into trouble” with Obama for his gay marriage endorsement. Obama and Biden were under activist pressure for being late to supporting same-sex marriage. By the time Biden announced his new stand, most rank-and-file Democrats were already on board. Pre-empting Obama made him look bad with liberals.
Obama and Biden had hesitated because of residual opposition from Hispanic and especially black voters. Black Californians voted in 2008 for Obama and Biden, and to define marriage as a man and a woman by passing the ballot initiative Proposition 8.
The sincerity of their opposition to same-sex marriage by that time could be called into question — in his 2006 Meet the Press interview, Biden was invoking the Defense of Marriage Act in part to explain his opposition to a Republican-backed federal marriage amendment — but it remained reflected in federal law until the Supreme Court handed down Obergefell v. Hodges. Public support for same-sex marriage hit 60% in Gallup the month before the decision.
The other issue is the strident tone Biden and his team have taken toward people who continue to espouse the same position on marriage he held for most of his adult life. Biden said he was striking a “blow against hate.” Jean-Pierre spoke of “extremist conservatives who appear bent on taking away fundamental rights, including marriage equality.”
Liberals may be shell-shocked by the reversal of Roe v. Wade earlier this year, and frequently invoked a stray sentence on substantive due process in Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion which wasn’t joined by any other justice and isn’t supported by Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion. But there is no comparison between the nearly 50-year legal and political campaign to overturn Roe, which came within one vote of being reversed 30 years ago, and the remaining anti-Obergefell activities.
That’s why the Respect for Marriage Act, essentially codifying Obergefell, sailed through Congress and a bill ostensibly codifying Roe couldn’t get majority support in a Democratic-controlled Senate.
How Biden speaks of faith-based and traditional views of marriage matters because of ongoing religious liberty concerns. Opponents believed the Respect for Marriage Act’s religious liberty protections were weak. Others maintain they went too far.
“There’s a section here that speaks to the ability of nonprofit religious organizations, faith-based social agencies, educational institutions, employees of those organizations to deny services, accommodations, facilities, goods, advantages, privileges to gay couples,” a reporter said to Jean-Pierre at Tuesday’s White House briefing. “So how is that not codifying discrimination?”
Biden, the second Catholic president, may face political pressure from those who believe religious liberty exemptions are codified discrimination.
“My wife said I was the most socially conservative man she had ever known,” Biden told an interviewer when he was a freshman senator.