Biden's same-sex marriage comment: Tactical move?

National Journal's Major Garrett on "CBS This Morning."
CBS This Morning

(CBS News) As the White House continues its delicate dance over President Obama's position on same-sex marriage, there's some speculation that Vice President Joe Biden's recent comments on the subject were no slip of the tongue.

"I believe it was entirely intentional," said National Journal congressional correspondent Major Garrett Wednesday on "CBS This Morning."

In an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" over the weekend, Biden said he was "entirely comfortable" with same-sex marriage - a position his boss has yet to formally espouse.

"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, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties," Biden said.

The comment immediately sparked renewed calls for Mr. Obama to clarify his position on same-sex marriage, a topic on which he's previously said he's "evolving."

The White House wouldn't bite, however, insisting on Monday that nothing has changed with respect to Mr. Obama's view on the matter.

"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 at the time.

Garrett argues the vice president's comments were an intentional strategy by the administration to tout its progress on gay rights and target presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney as a flip-flopper on the issue without facing the political risks that would come with the president's stamp of approval on same-sex marriage.

"The president says he's evolving on gay marriage. You can't evolve. You're for it or against it," said Garrett. "The president is not there yet but with the vice president saying he's okay with it, [Education Secretary] Arnie Duncan saying he's okay, they are showing the progress."

Citing the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," as well as the administration's decision not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Garrett posits that Biden, in his remarks, is attempting to "emphasize and underline what they've done" so far.

At the same time, the Obama campaign is targeting Romney for having allegedly regressed on gay rights. In a Tuesday statement, campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt touted the president's actions on gay rights while arguing that Romney "has moved backwards."

"The president has done more to advance gay rights than any other president - from securing hospital visitation and medical decision-making rights for gay partners, to repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell, to advancing equal rights and benefits for gays and lesbians," LaBolt said. "The country has moved forward since 1994, when Gov. Romney was supposedly an advocate on these issues, yet Gov. Romney has moved backwards. He would turn back the clock on all of the progress this President has made to advance equal rights."

Coming out himself in support of same-sex marriage, Garrett said, would be politically risky for the president.

"North Carolina underscores the political peril" of Mr. Obama himself coming out for gay marriage, Garrett says. On Tuesday, North Carolina voters passed a controversial amendment that will write a ban on same-sex marriage as well as civil unions for both gay and straight couples into the state Constitution.

By sending out surrogates like Biden instead, Garrett argues that the administration can continue to walk the line on a delicate issue.

"On the tactics, I still think it works - it's a net positive for the administration," Garrett said.