Obama Adviser Splits with President on Gay Marriage

Nov 13, 2009 1:00pm

ABC News’ Teddy Davis reports: Melody Barnes, the head of President Obama’s Domestic Policy Council, told students at Boston College Law School on Nov. 9 that she disagrees with her boss on the issue of same-sex marriage. “I really appreciate your frustration and your disappointment with the President’s position on this issue,” said Barnes when asked by a student if she supported equal civil marriage rights for gays and lesbians. “[W]ith regard to my own views, those are my own views, and I come to my experience  based on what I’ve learned, based on the relationships I’ve had with friends, and they’re relationships that I respect, and the children that they are raising, and that is something that I support.” You can watch the video HERE. Barnes, who recently became the first woman to join President Obama on the golf course, said that “very robust” policy and constitutional conversations take place at the White House on this topic. She noted, however, that President Obama “hasn’t articulated a shift in his position”. Although President Obama continues to oppose same-sex marriage, Barnes said that he is trying to “move the ball forward” for gay, lesbian, and transgendered Americans by wanting to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, encouraging changes to military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, and taking action to combat hate crimes. Barnes made her remarks in response to a Boston College Law School student who said that he was an Obama primary and general election voter who was deeply disappointed in the religion-based rationale that the president has offered to explain his opposition to civil marriage rights for gays and lesbians. Based on conversations with people in attendance at the speech, the HuffingtonPost published a second-hand account of Barnes’s remarks earlier this week. Boston College Law School shot video of Barnes' speech and Q&A that followed but initially held off on releasing it to the press because it wanted to “give the White House staffers a chance to view the video and give us their thumbs up on making it public.” A spokesman for Boston College Law School says that he has now received the “thumbs up” from the White House, and the school is planning to post the video – which was first shared with ABC News – on Friday afternoon. The topic of the Barnes speech was “Law and Domestic Policy in the Obama Administration.” See below for a transcript: QUESTION FROM BOSTON COLLEGE LAW SCHOOL STUDENT: Do you support equal and civil marriage rights for gay and lesbian Americans and if so are you speaking or will you speak with President Obama on this matter? MELODY BARNES: “I appreciate your question and I also belong to the United Church of Christ and I guess would respond in a couple of different ways. One, I really appreciate your frustration you’re 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 that he wants to try and to move the ball forward for gay and 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 in the military and in the workplace, and certainly with regard to hate crimes. I accept that is very different then what you are talking about and what you are talking about is something that’s quite fundamental. With regard to my own views, those are my own views. And I come to my experience  based on what I’ve learned, based on the relationships I’ve had with friends, and they’re relationships  that I respect, and the children that they are raising. And that is something that I support. But at the same time, when I walk in to the White House, though I work to put all arguments in front of the president, I also work for the president and we  have very robust policy conversations,  very robust constitutional conversations with the White House Counsel and others about these issues and we’ll see what happens from there. At this point, all I can say to you is 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 as being it is what it is even as we continue to have a national — a conversation with him — about it.” FOLLOW-UP QUESTION FROM SAME STUDENT: I would hope that he strongly revisits that especially as the 2012 re-election there . . . I think the political landscape is changing beneath us. MELODY BARNES:  “I recognize that as well. I mean I remember when at the time we were debating the Defense of Marriage Act, that then Sen. Robb (R-VA) stood up. I mean this is when Sen. Robb was up for re election in Virginia in a tough, it was a tough reelection, and ultimately he, in fact, lost. But he, in his speech in opposition to DOMA was one, whether you agreed or disagreed with him, I think of political courage at that time, and he talked about exactly what you’re talking about, about the changes that are taking place in this country. So, I think all of those forces will continue to mount and people will continue to have this conversation and people who have different opinions will continue to air them and that will shape the environment and the communities in which we live, but thank you I appreciate your question.” UPDATE #1: WH Responds to Barnes Tape: 'Her Personal Views on Issues Are Irrelevant' (2:33 pm ET): The White House is responding to release of a tape of Melody Barnes, the head of the President's Domestic Policy Council, answering a question about her views on same-sex marriage by saying that "her own personal views are irrelevant to her work advancing the Administration's agenda." Even though Barnes said "that is something that I support" when asked if she supports equal civil marriage rights for gays and lesbians, the White House maintains that her answer is open to interpretation and the White House takes the view that Barnes never discussed her "specific personal views on same-sex marriage or other issues." Does Barnes not support same-sex marriage? No, the White House is not saying that. The White House is simply saying that maybe she was simply expressing support for the gay couples (and children of gay couples) that she knows without saying that gays and lesbians should have civil marriage rights. Here is a written statement provided to ABC News by a White House official at 2:33 pm ET: “As the transcript shows, Ms. Barnes did not discuss her specific personal views on same-sex marriage or other issues. Further, as she clearly stated during the event, her personal views on issues are irrelevant to her work advancing the Administration’s agenda.  In response to the questioner, she did provide an overview of what the President is doing to help advance the issue of equal rights for LGBT Americans.” UPDATE #2: WH on Barnes, Take 2: 'Obviously, the President Has Staff with Many Different Points of View' (3:02 pm ET): The White House has now offered a second official reaction to the Barnes tape. This time, the White House doesn't call Barnes' personal views "irrelevant". Instead, the White House simply says that Barnes' specific personal view isn't the issue here. The White House is also continuing to maintain that Barnes did not offer a personal view on same-sex marriage. Here is a second written statement on Barnes provided to ABC News from a White House official at 3:02 pm ET: “The issue here isn’t Ms. Barnes’ specific personal view – which, as the transcript shows, she never offered.  Obviously, the President has staff with many different points of view, and each of them checks that view point at the door as they work to implement the President’s agenda." — Teddy Davis ABC News’ Lindsey Ellerson and Brittany Crockett contributed to this report.

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