Presumptive 2020 candidate Joe Biden shed light on the Obama’s administration’s stance on LGBTQ issues at a Human Rights Campaign event Saturday night.
Ahead of a widely rumored presidential run, Biden told the audience at HRC’s National Dinner in Washington, D.C. that he and Obama agreed not to address the marriage equality issue during the president’s first year in office.
“Barack and I agreed we would be quiet for the first year to let the new administration get up and running,” the former vice president said.
In truth, it took four years for Obama to publicly “evolve” on the same-sex marriage issue. When Obama took office in 2008, just 38 percent of Americans supported the right of all couples to marry. The president didn’t come out in favor of marriage equality until 2012 — when Gallup polls showed a majority of the public was on board with same-sex unions for the first time.
Biden told HRC that he now regrets waiting so long on the issue, gesturing to the Beltway crowd with a sign of the cross and saying, “God forgive me.”
“It was very late,” Biden lamented. “It was very late.”
The 75-year-old finally got his chance during a 2012 appearance on Meet the Press. Biden claimed he was “absolutely comfortable” with legalizing same-sex unions in comments then described by the Washington Post as the “classic… gaffe of accidentally speaking the truth.”
Just days later, Obama came out as a marriage equality supporter for the first time in an interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts.
“At a certain point, 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,” the president said, adding that “part of [his] hesitation on this has also been I didn’t want to nationalize the issue.”
“There’s a tendency when I weigh in to think suddenly it becomes political and it becomes polarized,” he confessed.
Obama’s alleged evolution on same-sex marriage has long been scrutinized, with former advisor David Axelrod outright accusing the president of misleading the public about his stance on the issue in a 2015 book. Axelrod claimed the president “never felt comfortable with his… compromised position.”
“He routinely stumbled over the question when it came up in debates or interviews,” Axelrod wrote in Believer: My Forty Years in Politics.
Documents show that Obama supported full marriage equality as early as 1996. But while campaigning for the president in August 2008, Obama referred to marriage as a “sacred union” between “a man and a woman” in conversation with Pastor Rick Warren at California’s Saddleback Church.
Biden pushed back against any inference the two men lied about their beliefs.
Instead the longtime LGBTQ ally — who once claimed queer and trans equality is “the same basic movement” as the 1960s civil rights movement in a 2015 speech — told HRC dinner attendees that the two men struck a deal over the issue.
“I would not affirmatively make the case [for same-sex marriage], but if I was asked, I would not remain silent,” he said.
Should Biden make a run for the White House in 2020, the Democrat will finally have the opportunity to be as vocal about LGBTQ rights as he likes. After being introduced by wife Jill Biden on Saturday, he condemned anti-gay conversion therapy and compared homophobia to cancer.
“This is a disease on America—the disease of homophobia,” referencing son Beau’s 2015 death from brain cancer. “We can end it. We can save my grandkids, my great-grandkids and thousands and thousands of Americans.
“And the rest of the world will repair to the American standards,” he added.
In August, Biden Foundation announced the launch of “As You Are,” a social media campaign which encourages support for queer and trans youth. Former NFL player Wade Davis and singer Cyndi Lauper partnered on the effort.