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Senate Democrats Avoid Gay Issues, Too

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, who is up for re-election this cycle, said he is “sure” many of his colleagues are onboard with marriage equality.

During the past week, the Obama campaign and the campaign of presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney stumbled on the issue of gay rights. A top Romney foreign policy aide, who is openly gay, resigned after effectively being sidelined before his job even began. Though the Romney camp said it had no problem with the adviser’s sexuality, multiple media reports suggested that the Boston-based operation struggled to walk the line between supporting the staffer and not upsetting a conservative bloc uneasy with gays and lesbians.

Then on Sunday in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Vice President Joseph Biden became the highest-ranking U.S. official to voice support for gay marriage. The Obama campaign went into defense mode, with Biden’s office issuing multiple statements and top Obama advisers trying to walk back the vice president’s remarks.

The next day, in another television interview, Education Secretary Arne Duncan voiced his support for extending marriage rights to same-sex couples.

That prominent Democrats support gay marriage is unsurprising. That they are voicing those opinions in a presidential election year when the president himself has not expressed them, however, has been creating a headache for Obama.

On Tuesday, North Carolina voters took to the polls to weigh in on a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and ensuring that the only domestic legal union recognized in the state is between a man and a woman.

“I think a number of us have spoken out and made it clear our position. I support marriage equality. I think it’s the right thing to do,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who added that he hoped Tar Heel State voters would agree.

Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, added that America’s leaders have a responsibility to set a tone on the issue, but he declined to say specifically whether the Senate should act on legislation.

“I think the American people are tolerant people, and if they have leaders who are tolerant, not only in their words but in their actions, that they will follow those leaders,” Durbin said.

But with Obama attempting to win several swing states in the South — such as Virginia and North Carolina — as well as blue-collar states in the Midwest, it’s doubtful that support for gay marriage will emerge in the president’s re-eleciton campaign at any point.

“I think we’re going to move toward that,” Durbin said of what might be included in drafts of the Democratic Party’s national platform. Durbin was a co-chairman of the 2000 drafting committee. But, he acknowledged, “I can’t tell you exactly what the words are.”

 

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