POLITICS

Melody Barnes, Obama Adviser, Offers Sympathy For Gay Marriage

UPDATE: ABC News has posted video (below) of White House domestic policy adviser Melody Barnes acknowledging disagreement with President Obama on the issue of gay marriage, comments first reported by the Huffington Post on Monday.

Barnes was asked, "What I would like to know is whether or not 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?"

"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 that he wants to try and move the ball forward for gay, lesbian and transgendered Americans ... I accept that that is very different than what you are talking about. And what you're talking about is something that is 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 that I've had with friends and their relationships that I respect, the children that they are 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...

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ORIGINAL STORY (posted 11/9/09)

Following a speech at Boston College's School of Law, President Obama's senior domestic policy aide implicitly acknowledged that she differed with Obama on the issue of gay marriage, multiple sources say.

Melody Barnes, who oversees the president's Domestic Policy Council, told a gathering of students that she sympathized with a questioner who expressed support for marriage equality, attendees said.

Paul Sousa, a co-founder of the GLBT rights organization Equal Rep, and the individual who asked Barnes the question, described the scene this way:

I ended with this, "I know there isn't much you can say right now because it's your job to defend President Obama even if he is wrong on a domestic policy stance. What I would like to know is - whether or not 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?"

For her response, Ms. Barnes did state that she supports marriage equality and can appreciate the frustration that our community is feeling. She [said she] is trying to move the ball forward with other action items (DOMA, DADT, ENDA).

Britt Mosman, a J.D. Candidate at the law school who was also at the event, recalled a slightly less definitive Barnes. Mosman told the Huffington Post that while "Barnes did express her own personal sympathy with the questioner's position in favor of same sex marriage," she also acknowledged "that she not only advises the President, but she also works for him." A third source with knowledge of the event confirmed Mosman's account.

Reached late Monday evening, a White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity said that Barnes was not discussing "her personal views on marriage equality or other issues."

"As she clearly stated at the event, her personal views on issues are irrelevant to her work of advancing the administration's agenda," the official added. "In response to the questioner, she did provide an overview of what the president is doing to help advance equal rights for LBGT Americans."

A video of the exchange, Mosman said, is expected to be posted soon.

If Mosman and Sousa's accounts are correct, Barnes becomes perhaps the highest-ranking White House official to signal support for same-sex marriage. The president, both during the campaign and since taking office, has expressed support for civil unions, but insisted that his religious beliefs prevent him from backing full-fledged marriage equality for gay couples.

That stance and others have created friction between the administration and the gay community. On Monday, a prominent political site that closely follows gay rights issues, AmericaBlog, called for a "donor boycott" of the Democratic National Committee and other Obama campaign groups. "Candidate Obama promised during the campaign to be the gay community's 'fierce advocate,'" the site states. "He and the Democratic party have not kept their promise."

As part of his questioning of Barnes, Sousa hinted that there could be political ramifications for the White House if common ground proved elusive.

"I ended the discussion by urging Ms. Barnes and the White House to revisit the issue before the 2012 election," he writes, "because a sea change is occurring in the political landscape beneath us and I'm not sure our community will support Pres. Obama then if he doesn't support marriage equality especially if there's a bunch more states that have legalized it."

UPDATE: The piece was updated slightly from its original version.

FURTHER UPDATE: Kent Greenfield, a law professor at Boston College who was in the room, said that from his vantage point, Barnes "was pretty artful" in not offering her personal views.

The Obama adviser, Greenfield recalled, "expressed sympathy in hearing [Sousa's] question and she did say that her views differed somewhat from the president... Though I don't think she said the word 'differed.'"

"But she was not being very substantive in her response with her views," he added. "I kept expecting her to say more and be more explicit with her views... It was the kind of statement where people got the impression that they wanted to get from it."