WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's election-year vagueness on gay marriage is coming under fresh scrutiny.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan broke ranks with the White House on Monday, stating his unequivocal support for same-sex marriage one day after Vice President Joe Biden suggested that he supported gay marriage as well.
Obama aides said the back-to-back remarks by two top administration officials represented personal viewpoints and were not part of a coordinated effort to lay groundwork for a shift in the president's position. Obama aides also tried to use the latest flareup in the gay-marriage debate to shine a light on GOP rival Mitt Romney's history of equivocating on some gay-rights issues.
Obama, who supports most gay rights, has stopped short of backing gay marriage. He has said for the past year and a half that his personal views on the matter are "evolving."
The White House held firm on Monday to that position, which polls show puts the president increasingly at odds with his party and the majority of Americans on gay marriage. But with Biden's and Duncan's comments reinvigorating the debate, Obama is likely to face renewed pressure to clarify his views ahead of the November election.
Throughout his first term, he has sought to walk a fine line on same-sex marriage. He's trying to satisfy rank-and-file Democrats by supporting a range of gay rights issues without alienating crucial independent voters who could be turned off by the emotional social issue.
The president's aides acknowledge that his position can be confusing. In states where gay marriage already is legal, the president says married gay couples should have the same rights as married straight couples. But he does not publicly support the right of gay couples to enter into a marriage in the first place.
Duncan, a longtime friend of the president as well as a member of his Cabinet, made clear Monday that his position on gay marriage was not in lockstep with the White House. Asked in a television interview whether he believed gay couples should legally be allowed to marry, Duncan said simply, "Yes, I do."
His comments follow Biden's assertion Sunday that he was "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."