Obama's delicate dance on same-sex marriage

President Obama and Vice President Biden over rainbow flag
President Obama and Vice President Biden over rainbow flag

(CBS News) WASHINGTON - North Carolina voters decide today whether their state should have a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

This, as a new Gallup poll shows half of Americans think same-sex marriages should be legal.

Meanwhile, President Obama hasn't said anything yet about comments from Vice President Biden and a member of his cabinet supporting same-sex marriage.

Six months before Election Day, the White House and the president's campaign spent Monday dealing with an issue they'd rather be left out of the political discussion because, no matter what the president may feel, it's risky politically.

The White House played defense Monday, insisting nothing has changed in Mr. Obama's view of same-sex marriage - namely - that, while he opposes it, his position is still evolving.

"I don't have an update to provide you on the president's position. It is what it was," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters.

But In the last 48 hours, the vice president has suggested he supports the right of gay couples to marry, only to see the administration pull that back and say he was simply supporting equal rights for all.

"I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights," Biden said on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan was explicit Monday. When asked on MSNBC's "Morning, Joe" if he supported same-sex marriage, he replied simply, "Yes I do."

It's an important issue to many of Mr. Obama's supporters on the left. And though the president supports civil unions for gay and lesbian couples, he has maintained that he does not support marriage for them. At least, not yet.

In 2010, he said, "My feelings about this are constantly evolving. I struggle with this."

The issue of same-sex marriage is politically potent. It was one element in the 2004 re-election of George W. Bush, helping to drive social conservatives to the polls.

But public opinion on the issue is shifting. Last year was the first in history when a majority of Americans supported gay marriage, according to a Gallup poll.

The White House stresses it has taken steps to guarantee rights for same-sex couples. It ended the "Don't Ask Don't Tell policy" in the military, and has ordered the Justice Department to stop enforcing the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

Later this week, Mr. Obama heads to Hollywood, a bastion of liberal support. And he is likely to be asked at a big-dollar fundraiser at the home of George Clooney if he's still "evolving" in his views.

The campaign is likely to keep trying to change the subject.

To see Bill Plante's report, click on the video in the player above.

  • Bill Plante

    Bill Plante is a CBS News Senior White House Correspondent