Joe Biden seemed to both oversell and downplay his role in making marriage equality happen at a fundraiser this weekend.
“I get more credit for marriage equality than I deserve," he said at an event held at a private mansion, as the Washington Blade was the first to report. "I told [President Obama] I wouldn’t get out ahead of him, but if I got asked the question, I couldn’t keep quiet. I wasn’t going to be silent on it."
The comment was a reference to a 2012 Meet the Press interview in which Biden expressed his support for the freedom to marry, surprising many observers since Obama had yet to do the same.
Behind the scenes, White House officials are said to have scrambled in handling Biden’s announcement. “I think you may have just gotten in front of the president on gay marriage,” Biden’s communications director, Shailagh Murray, reportedly told him at the time.
Several days later, Obama expressed his support for marriage equality in an interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts. He was prepared for the interview by his wife’s communications director, Kristina Schake, a former business partner of former Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin, who at the time was managing the federal lawsuit to overturn Proposition 8.
After his statement on Meet the Press, Biden was not particularly visible in the marriage equality fight. It was President Obama who called the plaintiffs in the Prop. 8 case, for instance, to congratulate them after the Supreme Court ruled in their favor in 2013.
At the fundraiser, Biden also recalled that polling showed a slim majority of American supported the freedom to marry, and that he had told insiders: “Don’t listen to our political advisers. The American people are way ahead.”
That’s true, generally speaking. Polling at the time was not entirely consistent, but over the previous few years, a clear trend had emerged of the public moving towards greater acceptance.
"A number of you thanked me for speaking out for gay rights, civil rights as I call it, as if I took any chance," Biden said. "I took no chance at all. The American public was way ahead of their government, way ahead of elected officials.”
But not all.
Many elected officials had supported marriage equality for years — contrary to what Biden said at the LGBTQ+ Forum this month — among them California’s then-attorney general, Kamala Harris. Harris was heavily involved in the push in California as early as 2004, conducting same-sex weddings at City Hall before they were legal, speaking at rallies, and submitting briefs in support of equality.
When the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in the Prop 8 case, Harris performed one of the first wedding ceremonies.
Following that ruling, the 2020 presidential candidate also personally called a registrar in Southern California who was unsure whether marriages could legally resume, reassuring him that he could indeed begin issuing licenses right away.
Cory Booker has also been an outspoken proponent. As mayor of Newark, he refused to officiate any weddings from 2006 to 2013, when marriage equality was legalized in New Jersey. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Warren expressed her support for marriage equality during her first campaign in 2011, saying that Obama needed to hurry up and clarify his position.
Like nearly all of the Democratic candidates hoping to be president — and none of the Republicans — Biden has energetically supported the Equality Act, currently stalled in the Senate, which would extend federal nondiscrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The White House hopeful restated his support for the legislation over the weekend.
"The first bill I want to sign is the Equality Act because today you can be married in a number of states on Saturday and be fired on Monday when you go into work," he said at the fundraiser. "And it’s gotta change. And most people don’t even know that. If we let them know that, we can change the law across the country."