Joe Biden Endorses Marriage Equality

Vice President Joe Biden has endorsed same-sex marriage, becoming the highest ranking American official to back marriage for gay and lesbian people. His comments signify a split within the Obama administration and may pave the way for President Obama — who says he supports civil unions and is still evolving on the matter — to also embrace equality.

Biden made his remarks during an appearance on Meet the Press, telling host David Gregory that he is “absolutely comfortable with…men marrying men, women marrying women.” He added, however, that “the President sets the policy” and did not say if he would support marriage in a second term. Biden credited the change-of-heart to the show Will & Grace, which aired on NBC from 1998 to 2006 and featured numerous gay characters:

Gregory: Have your views evolved?

Biden: The good news is that as more and more Americans come to understand what this is all about is a simple proposition. Who do you love? Who do you love and will you be loyal to the person you love? And that’s what people are finding out what all marriages at their root are about. Whether they are marriages of lesbians or gay men or heterosexuals. […]

Gregory: You’re comfortable with same-sex marriage now?

Biden: Look, 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 marrying women 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. […] I think Will & Grace probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody has done so far. People fear that is different and now they’re beginning to understand.

Watch it:

Biden has backed equal rights for the LGBT community throughout his career, but this is the first time he has publicly acknowledged his support of full marriage rights.

In December of 2010, Biden predicted, “I think the country’s evolving and I think there’s an inevitability for a national consensus on gay marriage.”

But when asked if he supports gay marriage during the 2008 Vice Presidential debate Biden was far more circumspect, saying, “No. Barack Obama nor I support redefining from a civil side what constitutes marriage. We do not support that.” He even sought common ground with Sarah Palin on the issue and noted that both believe that “there should be no civil rights distinction, none whatsoever between a committed gay couple and a committed heterosexual couple.”

Since that performance, the administration has touted its accomplishments on behalf of the LGBT community — from the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to its refusal to defend the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. Yet Biden’s support for marriage could excite the LGBT community — many of whom have recently expressed outrage over Obama’s unwillingness to issue an executive order prohibiting employment discrimination in federal contracting — just ahead of the 2012 election.

Obama first told blogger Joe Sudbay that “attitudes evolve [on marriage equality] including mine” in October of 2010 and the administration last commented on his position during a press gaggle on March 30, 2012. “I don’t anticipate that the President would make news on [marriage equality],” Press Deputy Josh Earnest told a reporter en route to Burlington, Vermont when asked about Obama’s “evolving position.”

Gay and lesbian couples can wed in six states and the District of Columbia. Washington and Maryland both passed same-sex marriage laws in 2012, but they are currently being challenged by voter referenda.

Update: The campaign is trying to walk back Biden’s remarks:

Update: Politico notes that a Biden spokesperson has issued this statement: 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.” Read the full statement here.

Update: Winnie Stachelberg, the Executive Vice President for External Affairs at the Center for American Progress, says: “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.”

Update: Will & Grace star Debra Messing praises Biden: