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Biden apologizes to Obama for marriage controversy

From Jessica Yellin, CNN Chief White House Correspondent
May 11, 2012 -- Updated 0220 GMT (1020 HKT)
  • Senior officials say Biden apologized to Obama on Wednesday
  • Obama responded that Biden was speaking from the heart, they say
  • Biden's weekend remarks spurred Obama to announce his support for same-sex marriage

Washington (CNN) -- Vice President Joe Biden has apologized to President Barack Obama for putting him in a tough position that led to Obama's announcement that he now supports same-sex marriage, senior administration officials said Thursday.

Obama said in an interview that aired Thursday on ABC that he made his decision public earlier than he had planned after Biden's weekend remark that he was "absolutely comfortable" with letting gays and lesbians marry.

Two senior administration officials said Biden and Obama met Wednesday morning, and Biden apologized for putting Obama in a tough spot. Obama responded by saying that he knew Biden was speaking from the heart, said the officials, who didn't want to be named discussing private conversations between the president and vice president.

Biden's remarks on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday launched a controversy that led to Obama announcing that his position on same-sex marriage, which he had previously called "evolving," had shifted to support. When Obama's full interview aired Thursday, he said his disclosure came sooner than planned as a result of Biden's comments.

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"I had already made a decision that we were going to probably take this position before the election and before the convention," Obama said on ABC's "Good Morning America." Biden "probably got out a little bit over his skis, but out of generosity of spirit," he said.

He added that he would have "preferred to have done this in my own way, on my own terms," but "all's well that ends well."

Separately, Biden spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff said Obama "has been the leader on this issue from day one, and the vice president never intended to distract from that."

Once Biden's comments drew attention to the issue, Obama made plans to announce his support next week on a previously scheduled appearance on the ABC talk show "The View," a senior administration official said Thursday. The president and his advisers knew Obama would be asked about the issue in the wake of Biden's NBC interview, said the official, who didn't want to speak publicly about internal administration discussions.

Ultimately, they decided to move up the timeline and have him announce his support during the ABC interview at the White House, the official said. And a top Democrat told CNN that Obama knew the issue would come up at the convention, partly because of a push for support for same-sex marriage to be included in the Democratic Party platform, and in debates.

Multiple top Democrats told CNN the president's senior aides are annoyed with Biden for forcing the conversation on same-sex marriage now. One source said Biden has, in the past, counseled the president against coming out for same-sex marriage, making this move that much more frustrating.

But the sources said they don't believe it will create a lasting rift between the two leaders. Biden is known to go off-script, something Obama knew when he selected his vice president.

In explaining to ABC how his position has evolved, Obama noted that his daughters Malia and Sasha have "friends whose parents are same-sex couples. It wouldn't dawn on them that somehow their friends' parents would be treated differently. And frankly that's the kind of thing that prompts a change of perspective, not wanting to somehow explain to your child why somebody should be treated differently when it comes to the eyes of the law."

Asked about whether his new position is a calculated move in an election year, Obama said it would "be hard to argue that somehow this is something that I'd be doing for political advantage. Because frankly, you know, the politics -- it's not clear how they cut."

The interview aired the same day Obama attended a fundraiser in Los Angeles, where support for same-sex marriage is strong. Movie star George Clooney hosted the event, which is raking in $15 million, according to a top Democratic source. And on Monday, openly gay singer Ricky Martin is hosting a fundraising event for Obama in New York.

But some in the African-American community have expressed strong disapproval of Obama's endorsement of same-sex marriage. A Democratic official said the White House has been actively reaching out to African-American community leaders and pastors and will continue to do so in the wake of the president's decision, but the official noted that even the president's base won't always agree with him on everything. "There are going to be issues you don't agree on," the official said.

And Obama told ABC he won't spend much time talking about the issue, because he's focused on the economy. The announcement puts Obama squarely at odds with presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who has since reiterated his opposition to same-sex marriage.
"And I do not favor civil unions if they are identical to marriage other than by name," Romney said during a Wednesday visit to Fort Lupton, Colorado. "My view is the domestic partnership benefits, hospital visitation rights and the like are appropriate, but that the others are not."

The issue is a divisive one in American politics, but it's uncertain how the development might play out at the voting booth.

A Gallup Poll released Tuesday indicated 50% of Americans believe same-sex marriages should be recognized by law as valid, with 48% saying such marriages should not be legal -- a dramatic shift from a few years ago. A Gallup poll in 2009 found 40% supported same-sex marriage and 57% were opposed.

But a CNN/ORC International poll, taken in late March, indicated policies toward gays and lesbians were tied for last in people's opinions of the most-important issues facing the country.

Obama said he supports states deciding the issue on their own, but added that he was "disappointed" by Tuesday's vote on the issue in North Carolina, where a ban on same-sex marriage was added to the constitution. Obama called the amendment discriminatory against gays and lesbians, a spokesman said earlier Wednesday.

Six states -- Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and New York -- and the District of Columbia issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, while 31 states have voted in favor of constitutional amendments that seek to defend traditional definitions of marriage as a heterosexual union.

In February, Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire signed a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage beginning in June, but opponents there have pledged to block the bill and called for voters to decide the issue. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley signed into law a bill that permits the state's same-sex couples to wed as of January 1, and state residents may vote to affirm such a law.

Minnesota will vote on a state constitutional amendment similar to the one in North Carolina, while Maine will have a referendum on allowing same-sex marriage. Meanwhile, two cases seeking to overturn laws forbidding the practice, one from California and another from Massachusetts, could be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court in coming months.

CNN's Josh Levs, Phil Gast, Bill Mears, Dan Gilgoff and Jim Acosta contributed to this report.

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