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May 8, 2012 at 12:01 PM

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Gay marriage leaders here give Obama a pass on 'evolving' view

President Obama has been at the center of a political free-for-all this week about his squishy position on gay marriage.

The frenzy follows Vice President Joe Biden's comments on Meet the Press Sunday. Biden said he was "absolutely comfortable" with equal rights for married same-sex couples. Education Secretary Arne Duncan made similar comments Monday.

That put a spotlight on Obama, who has championed equal rights for same-sex couples on many fronts, yet has maintained he is still "evolving" on the marriage question.

Political commentators have called the president's parsing on the subject "absurd," and "incoherent." Others say Biden's latest gaffe was no accident, but a wink to pro-gay-marriage voters.

This fall, Washington voters likely will be deciding whether to keep or scrap a law signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire making the state the seventh to legalize same sex marriage.

On Thursday, Obama will make a fundraising stop in Seattle, where same-sex marriage enjoys broad support, and where the president has many well-heeled gay and lesbian political donors.

But leaders of the pro-gay marriage campaign say they're not demanding any public endorsement by Obama if it would jeopardize his reelection chances.

Josh Friedes, director of Marriage Equality for Equal Rights Washington, said he understands the "political calculus" that may be part of Obama's decision to wait on a public endorsement -- even if he already agrees with Biden.

"I wish he would come out now. I do think it would create an even greater conversation, which is what we desire," Friedes said.

But Friedes said Obama already has been "the most supportive president ever of LGBT civil rights" -- noting the president's decision to end the military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, his pro-gay rights executive orders, and his order to the Justice Department to cease defending the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

"If the president is really there (supportive of gay marriage) and he is right that coming out could cost him the presidency, then I will not condemn him for his slower public evolution," Friedes said, noting the "huge difference" on the issue between Obama and Republican Mitt Romney.

State Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, who shepherded the marriage bill through the Legislature, said Obama "has to make a political decision and a personal decision."

"I want him to get there in a way that's smart for the issue and smart for the party," Murray said. "The last thing I want is the president to lose swing states because of this issue at this point."

"We respect the personal journey the president is on with regards to marriage for same-sex couples and expect him to draw the same conclusion as millions of Americans who have traveled that same road, including Gov. Gregoire," said Zach Silk, campaign manager for Washington United for Marriage.

Such faith is buttressed by reports that Obama fully endorsed gay marriage early in his political career -- before he had to appeal to a national audience.

Perhaps after November, the president will feel safe enough to publicly "evolve" back to that position again.

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