What Melody Barnes Said About Gay Marriage

| Fri Nov. 13, 2009 10:35 AM EST

Earlier this week an appearance by White House director of domestic policy Melody Barnes at Boston College's School of Law created something of a controversy. The Huffington Post reported that Barnes "implicitly acknowledged" her support for gay marriage at the event. If true, this would possibly make her the first high-profile administration official to break publicly with Obama's stated belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. An anonymous White House official quickly denied the account, claiming that Barnes didn't discuss "her personal views on marriage equality or other issues." Attendees of the event contacted by HuffPo offered varying impressions of what Barnes actually said: one said she "did state that she supports marriage equality;" others recall her answer being less explicit.

Mother Jones has obtained a transcript of the event and Barnes certainly implied that she and President Obama have a difference of opinion when it comes to gay marriage. Barnes was asked "whether you support equal civil marriage rights for gay and lesbian Americans, and if so, are you speaking or will you speak with President Obama on this civil rights matter?"

Barnes began by describing what the President is doing to promote gay rights—he has, she said, indicated that he wants to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and "encourage changes in the military." Then she returned to the original subject of the question—marriage equality: "I accept that that is very different than what you're talking about."  She proceeded: "With regard to my own views, those are my own views. And I come to my own experience based on what I've learned, based on the relationships I've had with friends and their relationships that I respect, the children that they're raising, and that is something that I support."  

Barnes then suggested that she and the president have different views on the issue of gay marriage: "He hasn't articulated a shift in his position there and that is something that at this moment I accept. It is what it is, even as we continue to have a conversation with him about it."

Her answer wasn't as direct as it could have been. But when talking about marriage, she said, "that is something that I support." Perhaps it could be claimed that she was referring only to the relationships of her friends—but her remarks also indicate that she and Obama hold different views on this issue. If Barnes does back gay marriage—which would not be terribly surprising for an Obama official—it's not a big deal. But why was the White House so quick to deny that she'd even discussed her own thoughts on the matter?

The video will be posted on Boston College's website later this afternoon; a full transcript of the exchange is after the jump:

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Question: I know there isn’t much you can say right now because you know it is your job to defend President Obama..(laughter) even if I think he is 100 percent wrong on this domestic policy stance, but what I would like to know is whether you support equal civil marriage rights for gay and lesbian Americans, and if so, are you speaking or will you speak with President Obama on this civil rights matter?

Melody Barnes:  Sure, and I appreciate your question. And I also belong to the 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 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 and in the work place, and certainly with regard to hate crimes.

I accept that that is very different than what you’re talking about, and what you’re talking about is something that’s quite fundamental. With regard to my own views, those are my own views. And I come to my own experience based on what I’ve learned, based on the relationships I’ve had with friends and their relationships that I respect, the children that they’re 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.  I also have very robust policy conversations, very robust constitutional conversations with the White House council, and others about these issues, and we’ll see what happens from there. At this point all I can say to you are that his plans 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, it is what it is, even as we continue to have a conversation with him about it.