First of all, here's what I said in a comment on Bridget McManus' blog where she was expressing righteous indignation at the response to the gay marriage question:
I was furious with the way that Biden handled the gay marriage question, but I can't say that I was surprised. Obama has made it very clear that he's hedging his bets as far as LGBT issues are concerned, and I think it's part of the Obama/Biden platform that they're for gay rights and LGBT equality but anti-gay marriage as a way to appease their more conservative voters. Personally, I disagree with this strategy, but I understand the impetus; it's idiotic but quite possible that something as minor as open support for gay marriage could cost the Democrats the election and no one wants that to happen.
On the one hand, Biden is openly against "don't ask, don't tell" as a discriminatory policy and wants same-sex partners to have equal rights under the law. A quote from his government website: "Senator Biden believes legal recognition should not be denied same-sex couples. He advocates for re-examining federal laws, including the tax code, to ensure our national laws are not unfair to same-sex couples, and that committed adults who are adopting are not discriminated against because of sexual orientation. He supports letting states determine how to recognize civil unions and define marriage."
So basically he's pro-civil unions and equal domestic partnership benefits (if not "marriage" per se), anti-discrimination and pro-equal rights in regards to adoption. That sounds pretty heartening to me, and I'd like to believe that he'll follow through with that mandate, and encourage Obama to do the same, should they be elected.
On the other hand, the marriage question is an important semantic one, and I completely agree with you that someone needs to stand up for gay marriage rights (that's what I really liked about Hillary Clinton, but alas...). Intellectually, I can understand the need for hedging (i.e. civil unions instead of "marriage") even though it's a complete bullshit dodge and stupid that anyone cares what it's called. But personally and politically, I realize that refusing to call same-sex partnerships "marriage" is a symbolic way of refusing to acknowledge that same-sex relationships are equal and the same as heterosexual relationships.
I don't have much to add to that except an extended version of something that I said to vpass in the comments section of my live blog of the debate. Gay marriage is a huge issue. I am a lesbian, I support gay marriage (not just civil unions), and I do not think that it's okay to suggest that same-sex couples should be satisfied with civil unions so that we don't encroach on the "sanctity of marriage." Be that as it may, gay marriage is not my only concern right now. I want a strong economy, good (universal) health care, intelligent foreign policy decisions, equal rights and pay for women, and equal rights for LGBT people and families. I trust Obama/Biden to provide all that, and not just in contrast to the dire platform of the McCain/Palin ticket.
I'm extremely steamed up over the issue of gay marriage, but, in the grand scheme of things, I cannot pretend that's all that matters. The personal is political, but the political is not always personal. That is to say, I don't think Obama and Biden really are against gay marriage. It's a line that they feel they have to feed us to keep moderates happy (maybe they're right about the necessity of this semantic play or maybe they're wrong--we can't know, and I'm becoming more and more convinced that this election is too important to take that risk, although it's a risk someone needs to be willing to take very very soon).
Obama openly opposes Proposition 8 in California (which would ban same-sex marriage). As for Biden, I'll leave you with this excerpt from Joe Biden's Meet the Press interview with Tim Russert:
Q: In November 2003, you were asked, "Do you believe gay marriage is inevitable?" And you responded, "I'm not sure. I think probably it is."
A: Well, I think it probably is because social mores change. But I don't think the government can dictate the definition of marriage to religious institutions. But government does have an obligation to guarantee that every individual is free of discrimination. And there's a distinction. I think government should not be able to dictate to religions the definition of marriage, but on a civil side, government has the obligation to strip away every vestige of discrimination as to what individuals are able to do in terms of their personal conduct.
Q:So New Hampshire coming out in favor of civil unions is OK by you?
A: Yes. Yes, it is.
Does this really sound like someone who is against gay marraige? Or does it sound like someone who's a politician and can only say the "socially-acceptable" shadow of what it is they actually believe?
What do you think? Frustrating, but politically-wise hedge that we can live with...for now? Or unacceptable no matter what?