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Joe Biden reveals what Barack Obama privately told him about equal marriage

Nick Duffy January 25, 2018

Former US Vice President Joe Biden has revealed what President Obama told him about same-sex marriage.

The former VP, a strong supporter of LGBT rights, famously stepped on the toes of President Obama in 2012 when he announced his own support for same-sex marriage while the President was still officially ‘evolving’ on the issue.

In Biden’s new book ‘Promise Me, Dad’ – dedicated to his late son Beau Biden – the politician opens up about the incident, which according to some accounts led to “chaos” inside the West Wing before Obama himself also came out in favour.

Joe Biden in NYC
Joe Biden in NYC (Monica Schipper/Getty Images)

He wrote: “For all that time together, the President and I were rarely alone, except for fleeting moments between meetings. Our lunches were the one setting where we could talk frankly, without fear of being overheard.

“We could discuss the most important issues facing the administration, the country, and the world at that moment; and we could talk through any personal issues we were having. If something one of us had done angered or disappointed the other, the weekly lunch was the time to clear the air. Not that there was much of that.

“Even a ‘Biden gaffe’ that sent the White House and 2012 campaign staff into paroxysms — when I got out ahead of the president by saying on Meet the Press that I was ‘absolutely comfortable’ with gay marriage and that gay couples were entitled to all the same civil rights and civil liberties as heterosexual couples — didn’t cause any real disturbance between us.

“I went into the Oval Office the day after and the president just stood up and walked around his desk with a big grin on his face.

“‘Well, Joe’, he said, ‘you told me you weren’t going to wear any funny hats or change your brand’.

“He joked that I had sent everybody into an uproar and said the campaign did have some work to do, but he didn’t take me to task for speaking my mind about an issue I cared about deeply.”

Biden’s book also opens up about the moment in June 2015 when, following a legal challenge backed by the Obama administration, the US Supreme Court legalised same-sex marriage across all 50 states.

The politician, whose son Beau had passed away from cancer earlier the same year, was en route to attend a memorial for victims of the Charleston church shooting when the SCOTUS verdict went public.

He said: “We were in Kiawah at just after ten o’clock on the morning of June 26, preparing for the ride to the memorial service in Charleston, when the news broke [on CNN].

“The decision was 5-4. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was sworn in during the final year of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, was not only the swing vote but also the author of the majority opinion in the landmark decision. I took some real pride in the ruling, in part because I had been the Judiciary Committee chairman who had presided over Kennedy’s confirmation hearings.

“Anthony Kennedy wasn’t Reagan’s first choice. He was only nominated after the confirmation hearings for Reagan’s original pick, Robert Bork, had revealed Bork to be so narrow in his reading of the fundamental privacy rights afforded by the Constitution that the Senate had rejected him, 58-42. The no votes included six from Reagan’s own party. I had worked hard in that hearing to be fair to Bork, who was a distinguished jurist and a remarkably intelligent man.

“But I also worked hard to show that Judge Bork’s views and his record of jurisprudence were at odds with how most Americans viewed our Constitution. Judge Bork believed there were no individual rights in the Constitution that were not literally written into the document itself.

“The Constitution did not speak explicitly of the right to privacy, or the right to use contraception, or the right of women to be treated equally under the law, or the right to marry somebody of the same sex, so it required a legislature to grant those rights. Courts, in Bork’s view, had to defer to the political process in all those matters. Majority rules.

“I could tell from Anthony Kennedy’s testimony in his nomination hearing that he would have a much more generous reading of the Constitution and a much more expansive view of individual rights and equality under the law, and history has shown that to be the case.

“His majority opinion in the 2015 gay marriage case was the high mark of his three decades on the court.”

Biden continued: “The fight for marriage equality was a long, slow battle that required incredible moral and physical courage on the part of really brave gay men and women. Just being public about who they were was an act of courage until not so long ago.

“Gays and lesbians who came out, stood up, and made their case for equal treatment and equal rights risked a hell of a lot. They demanded their rights in the face of flat-out hatred in a few quarters, which made them prey to physical and emotional abuse.

“I remember that during the awful scourge of AIDS, many in the conservative fundamentalist clergy and many right-wing officials cruelly claimed that the disease killing thousands of young gay men every year was a judgment from God.

“But the toughest obstacle gays and lesbians faced was probably not hatred; it was the ignorance of most of their fellow citizens. It took a long time for Americans to begin to understand the simple and obvious truth that gay men and women are overwhelmingly good, decent, honourable people who want and deserve the same rights as anyone else.”

He added: “As of June 26, 2015, the law of the land would no longer make exceptions in recognising marriage.

“I cannot claim to have risked much in advocating equality for the LGBT community. But I felt incredibly proud that day to have played some role in the gay marriage decision. I thought of Beau, who as attorney general of Delaware made a point of attending a same-sex wedding on July 1, 2013, the day marriage equality was implemented in our state.

“He had also filed a legal brief supporting marriage equality in a case before the Ninth Circuit back in the fall of 2013, when he was just finishing his first round of radiation and chemotherapy.

“A few months later he announced that Delaware would recognise same-sex marriages performed in Utah in the narrow window of time when it was legal there. ‘Marriage equality is the law in Delaware’, he had said, ‘and I strongly believe that individuals outside our state borders should be equally free to choose whom to love and whom to spend their lives with’.

“I also thought of my dad that morning in Kiawah, and one of the greatest life lessons he taught me, when I was a teenager. We were at a traffic light in downtown Wilmington, and my dad and I caught a glimpse of two men on a nearby corner.

“They embraced, kissed each other, and then headed off separately to face their days—as I supposed thousands of husbands and wives all over the city did every morning.

“I just turned and looked at my dad for an explanation. ‘Joey, it’s simple’, my dad told me. ‘They love each other’.”

More: Barack Obama, Biden, Gay, joe biden, LGBT, marriage, obama, same sex marriage, US

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