Cabinet Secretaries Are Silent After Biden and Duncan Plug Gay Marriage

The White House says Obama still disagrees with them, but does he really?

May 9, 2012 -- Are President Obama's cabinet secretaries on notice?

The White House has been playing shaky defense since Vice President Joe Biden and Education Secretary Arne Duncan endorsed gay marriage, putting more pressure than ever on President Obama to do the same.

The divide between Duncan and Biden and the president is playing out as gay marriage is debated across the country. North Carolina voters on Tuesday voted to change their state constitution to ban not only gay marriage, but civil unions too.

Obama supports civil unions, but he does agree with the majority of North Carolina voters who don't think gays should get married — at least according to spokesman Jay Carney.

There's a good chance that's not the case. The open secret in Washington and in the gay community is that Obama most likely supports gay marriage and is waiting until after Election Day to make his views public. Leaders in the gay community fully expect Obama to do just that, and he has done little to persuade them otherwise (his strange perennial explanation of his "evolving" views on gays, for instance).

But now the questions are coming faster and more furiously, after Biden and Duncan joined housing secretary Shaun Donovan on the list of cabinet members who publicly want gay marriage. Carney has spent a great deal of time this week deflecting questions, at times prompting laughter from the press corps.

ABC News asked all the other cabinet departments and agencies about their secretaries' views on marriage, and not a single one of them got back to us, even after promises to do so. The Justice Department and the Department of Defense sent an email back our way, and that was to formally decline to comment.

Fred Sainz, the VP of communications at the pro-gay Human Rights Campaign, suggested that the White House's Office of Cabinet Affairs sent a memo to the departments telling them not to talk about gay marriage and to defer to the White House on the matter.

"My guess is that the vast majority of cabinet secretaries do support marriage equality," Sainz said. "From the White House's perspective, there's no sense in kind of creating day three of this story."

The Office of Cabinet Affairs declined to provide a response on the record. A White House official who asked not to be identified and wouldn't give a reason why said that no memo had been sent to agencies.

There's a chance that the radio silence might be broken at any public events cabinet secretaries have in the near future, when a reporter could sneak in a question about gay marriage. And the topic is likely to resurface on Monday, if not frequently before then, when Obama accepts a "medal of distinction" from Barnard College, which also is giving the award to Evan Wolfson, the founder of the pro-gay group Freedom to Marry.

That same day, Obama is scheduled to collect checks from donors in New York City at a fundraiser with Ricky Martin aimed at the gay community.

Wolfson said that when he meets Obama at Barnard, "I will encourage him to do what Vice President Biden has done to complete his journey in support of the freedom to marry and join the majority for marriage."

A Gallup poll reported Tuesday that half of Americans say gay marriage should be legal.

"The only way to have questions about the president's position on the freedom to marry slow down and go away is for the president to be clear and forthright in his support for the freedom to marry as so many other leading Democrats, including members of his own cabinet and the vice president, now have done," Wolfson said.

Obama canceled a trip to North Carolina on the day that the state voted on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and civil unions — an amendment Obama has opposed but which appeared likely to pass.

Carney refused Tuesday to discuss Obama's recent conversations about gay marriage, though he suggested that the president might finally be willing, as gay rights advocates say, to complete his evolution.

"I'm sure it is the case that he will be asked again at some point when he gives interviews or press conferences about this issue, and I'll leave it to him to describe his personal views," Carney said.