Same-sex marriage an election hot topic
04:21 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Timeline to announce was moved up after Biden's "Meet the Press" comments, souces said

Sources: White House tried to do preemptive damage control before interview aired

President decided to speak after Biden comments dominated Sunday, Monday news cycles

CNN  — 

Before President Barack Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage this week, White House officials gave mixed signals on just how and when the president had originally planned to roll out his support for the issue.

Some said an announcement had been in the works for a while and was imminent, while others said that the president intended to reveal his beliefs during a previously scheduled appearance on “The View” this Monday.

Others said the president was going to speak out for same-sex marriage at some point before the Democratic convention.

The Democratic sources said that the president knew he had to voice his support before the convention when the Democratic Party is likely to include a pro-same-sex marriage plank in its platform. And whatever timeline he had was moved up after Biden spoke candidly in favor of same-sex marriage during a television interview taped last Friday for NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

During the interview, Biden said he was “absolutely comfortable” with same-sex marriage, stronger language than the president had used on the matter. White House press advisors were made aware of Biden’s comments after the taping and, according to sources in the media, quickly began preemptive damage control, ahead of the interview’s broadcast on Sunday.

Despite the effort, Biden’s comments dominated the political news cycle on Sunday and gained further traction Monday after Education Secretary Arne Duncan said he also supported same-sex marriage in an MSNBC interview that morning. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was also peppered with questions on the issue during Monday’s White House press briefing.

A number of marriage equality advocates quickly seized on the comments, using them as a rallying cry to urge the president to take a firmer stance. Many of the groups even pointed to high-profile Republicans who have voiced support, including former Vice President Dick Cheney and former first lady Laura Bush.

Some White House insiders told CNN that Obama had not originally intended to announce his thoughts on same-sex marriage on “The View,” but some advisers thought it would be the best venue. Others felt that the situation needed to be addressed before then. So on Tuesday ABC’s Robin Roberts was invited to come to the White House for an interview, which was conducted on Wednesday.

ABC cut into programming around 3 p.m. ET Wednesday, alerting viewers that Obama had officially expressed support for members of the same gender to legally wed.

“I’ve just concluded that for me, personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” Obama said in the interview.

The response was instant and dramatic, as Twitter lit up with reactions of celebration and dismay, while political figures flooded reporters’ in-boxes with statements. Everyone seemed to have something to say.

Supporters hailed the president’s decision, with many describing it as a historic moment for the movement. Opponents, however, were quick to disagree with his opinion, though some credited Obama for making his position clear.

The White House sent talking points to key supporters and surrogates, emphasizing that this was a personal decision the president came to after discussions with his wife and kids, and later reached out to faith leaders.

The president’s re-election campaign was already promoting and fundraising off his comments by Thursday morning.

Multiple top Democrats said senior Obama aides were deeply annoyed with Biden for forcing the conversation on same-sex marriage earlier than planned. These officials said Biden had, in the past, advised the president against coming out in favor of same-sex marriage because of the potential political downsides, making it all the more frustrating, multiple sources said.

All of the sources emphasize, however, the episode will not create a lasting rift between the West Wing and the vice president’s office, as Biden has gone off script before and will do it again, they said.

In his “Meet the Press” interview, Biden mentioned the former NBC comedy “Will and Grace” as a major catalyst in what he described as a changing, more accepting American culture. The show’s creator, Max Mutchnick, said Wednesday on CBS’s “This Morning” that Biden had used similar language at a private fundraiser three weeks prior to the interview. He added that the White House was recording Biden while he made the comments at the event.

“This says to me that it was all very choreographed,” Mutchnick said. “It just doesn’t seem right to me because it was verbatim to what he had said three weeks earlier….He was testing the material out of town, and then he took it to a larger house, which was ‘Meet the Press.’”

White House officials told CNN that it’s standard practice to record every event the president and vice president attend as a record, whether they’re public or private events. Two people who attended the event dispute Mutcnick’s characterization and say the vice president gave them no reason to believe the president or the White House was going to reveal a change of position on gay marriage.

Late Thursday, two senior administration officials told CNN Biden apologized Wednesday to the president for putting him in a tough position. President Obama responded by saying that he knows the vice president was speaking from the heart.

Democratic sources added they were not concerned Biden will “get credit” for the president’s announcement. They say they think most Americans already believed the president was probably in favor of gay marriage.

One source added that Obama has a close personal relationship with Biden, one that trumps his advisers’ frustrations.

As evidence that the vice president is not in the doghouse – he has a campaign swing to the critical battleground state of Ohio next week. But, the source said, there is a great deal of interest in keeping the vice president “on script.”

Obama, who once opposed same-sex marriage, had recently taken the official position that his views were “evolving.” He hinted, however, that he was edging toward embracing same sex marriage, saying at fundraisers there was more work to be done for same-sex couples, leading supporters to believe he would take a clearer position.

1996 document showed Obama favored same-sex marriage

Based on past statements some Obama supporters have believed the president long supported same-sex marriage but kept his beliefs private because of the potential political risks.

However, top Obama aides insist the president only completed his “evolution” on this issue several months ago. After that, it was just a question of when he’d speak out and share his views.

CNN’s Jessica Yellin contributed to this report.