Gibbs was responding to questions from the Washington Blade on whether Obama had “backtracked” from a statement of support for same-sex marriage in a 1996 questionnaire during his campaign for an Illinois state Senate seat.
“I think there’s a whole host of issues that I would direct you to the campaign on — on different questionnaires and I would again reiterate what the president has said recently on that issue,” Gibbs said.
Asked whether he denies the accuracy of the 1996 questionnaire response, Gibbs ducked the question and replied, “Again, I’m happy to send you the several thousand clips of which went around during the course of 2008 on a whole host of those issues.”
The marriage questions prompted Gibbs to attempt to end the news conference. Following his response to the second Blade question, Gibbs said, “Thanks guys,” indicating that he would take no more questions.
Ending the news conference at that point would have been unusual because Gibbs had not yet finished taking questions from reporters sitting in the third row of the briefing room. Gibbs stayed at the podium only after reporters in the White House press corps protested that the news conference hadn’t gone on for long enough.
In the 1996 questionnaire response to what is now the Windy City Times, Obama unequivocally stated his support for same-sex marriage, which is different from his current position on the issue.
“I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages,” Obama wrote.
But Obama’s position since has been that marriage should be reserved for one man and one woman. Still, the president has suggested his position could “evolve” on the matter and said last month he’s “wrestling” with the idea of marriage rights for gay couples.
“Like a lot of people, I’m wrestling with this,” Obama said in an interview last month with The Advocate. “I’ve wrestled with the fact that marriage traditionally has had a different connotation. But I also have a lot of very close friends who are married gay or lesbian couples.”
Although he opposes same-sex marriage, Obama as a U.S. senator voted against a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and said he supports full repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex unions.
Later during the conference, Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher asked whether the president has finally reached some new position on same-sex marriage or would address the issue during the State of the Union address on Tuesday.
“As I said earlier, I don’t have an update to what — to reiterating that it’s something that he thinks a lot about,” Gibbs said.
A number of gay rights supporters have called on Obama to declare support for same-sex marriage during the State of the Union address. On Sunday, the New York Times published an editorial from gay political pundit and sex columnist Dan Savage, who urged the president to address marriage rights for gay couples during the speech.
A partial transcript of the exchange with Gibbs over the marriage issue follows:
Washington Blade: Back in 1996, when the president was running to become an Illinois state senator, he stated in questionnaire response to what is now the Windy City Times that he supports same-sex marriage. He wrote, “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.” That’s not the president’s current position. He has backtracked on a earlier commitment he made to gay and lesbian Americans?
Robert Gibbs: I think there’s a whole host of issues that I would direct you to the campaign on — on different questionnaires and I would again reiterate what the president has said recently on that issue.
Blade: But do you dispute the accuracy of this questionnaire response?
Gibbs: Again, I’m happy to send you the several thousand clips of which went around during the course of 2008 on a whole host of those issues.
Mediaite: I asked you last week if the president was going to talk about repealing DOMA or about same-sex marriage in the [State of the Union] speech. And you know, if you want to volunteer an answer on that you can, but I also asked you –
Gibbs: I’ll volunteer that as I told, Keith, it’s around 9:05 tomorrow –
Mediaite: My follow-up is –
Gibbs: Your follow-up to my non-answer?
Mediaite: I also asked you if the president — he said his personal view on same-sex marriage is evolving and so I wanted to follow-up and see has he come to a new personal view –
Gibbs: As I said earlier, I don’t have an update to what — to reiterating that it’s something that he thinks a lot about.
Mediaite: Do you know when he might speak about that if he’s not going to speak about it –
Gibbs: I don’t.