Obama Administration takes yet another baby step towards backing gay marriage

After Joe Biden’s remarks yesterday on “Meet the Press” that he’s “absolutely comfortable” with gay marriage—which the White House scrambled to walk back yesterday—yet another member of the Obama Administration has come out in support of gay marriage today.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” this morning and when asked whether “same-sex men and women should be able to get legally married in the United States,” he answered unequivocally, “Yes, I do.”

The Obama Administration’s position on gay marriage has always been maddening, no matter what side of the debate you’re on. Obama himself is officially opposed to gay marriage, but says he’s “evolving.” Which is basically saying he’s halfway in between yes and no. He’s described his idea of compromise on the issue by saying, “My baseline is a strong civil union that provides them the protections and the legal rights that married couples have.”

Obama has tried to appease those on both sides with a compromise that could theoretically satisfy everyone. The problem is that marriage isn’t just a logistical issue—it’s emotional and principled, so in trying to play the exact middle of a polarizing issue he ends up alienating everyone on both sides of it.

Biden’s remarks yesterday and Duncan’s today clearly depart from the stance Obama himself has taken. In an election year, with such a sensitive issue it seems unlikely that the Administration would be so undisciplined as to let its Cabinet-level members venture so far off script on accident. It seems possible the Administration may be using Biden and Duncan to stake out a more progressive position to differentiate the administration from Romney.

Whether Obama himself will walk into the progressive gulf behind Biden and Duncan or continue “evolving” is anyone’s guess. But in an election year when the similarities between the two candidates is striking (especially on issues like health care), it might do him some good to wind up his evolution in a place Romney is sure to stay away from.