So Did Obama’s Domestic Policy Chief Endorse Gay Marriage Or Not?


Is it that big a deal when a senior Obama administration comes out in support for gay marriage? Yup! Which is why the comments of Melody Barnes, the president’s domestic policy director, are causing such a kerfuffle.

The “Did she or didn’t she voice support?” game finally has an answer, days after her comments at a Boston College School of Law talk were mangled by various reports. So did Barnes actually come out in “support” of gay marriage? Was she “sympathetic” to it?

Well, here’s exactly what she said when law student Paul Sousa asked her about the M-word:

I appreciate your question, and I also belong to United Church of Christ. And I guess I would respond in a couple of different ways. One, I appreciate, I really appreciate your frustration and your disappointment with the president’s position on this issue. He has taken a position, and at the same time, he has also articulated the number of ways that he wants to try and move the ball forward for gay, lesbian and transgendered Americans, including signing the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, and a whole host of other things that we’ve started to do to model as a leader in terms of what the federal government is doing, as well as to encourage changes both in the military, in the workplace, and certainly with regard to hate crimes. I accept that that is very different than what you are talking about. And what you’re talking about is something that is quite fundamental.

With regard to my own views, those are my own views. And I come to my experience based on what I’ve learned, based on the relationships that I’ve had with friends and their relationships that I respect, the children that they are raising, and that is something that I support. But at the same time, when I walk into the White House, though I work to put all arguments in front of the president, as you say, I also work for the president. And we have very robust policy conversations, very robust constitutional conversations with the White House counsel, and others about these issues, and we’ll see what happens from there. At this point, all I can say to you is that his plans right now are to move the ball forward in the ways that I’ve described. He hasn’t articulated a shift in his position there, and that is something that at this moment I accept as it being, it is what it is, even as we continue to have a national, or we continue to have a conversation with him about it.

Were the comments that controversial that it took the White House “two whole days” to screen the video and approve it for distribution? (Boston College, which taped the talks, maintains it’s at a guest speaker’s discretion whether to release a recording; ostensibly, it wasn’t Barnes’s call, but the White House’s.) As an email exchange with Americablog shows, the White House appears to have “temporarily” asked BC to withhold the video from distribution. But Barnes’s comments, evidently, are benign enough that they’ve given the school the go-ahead to post the video, which BC will on its website later today. UPDATE: Video here.

So was it the ringing endorsement of gay marriage from a senior Obama official? Not quite — and there’s no great soundbite to pull here to make the headline “Obama aide loves the gays!” But it’s clear Barnes is a supporter of gay marriage, whether she’ll go on the record about it or not. It’s also clear that Barnes is, dutifully, towing the commander-in-chief’s line, and knows it’s her job to carry out his policies, not to make her own.

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