The next step in the marriage equality 'evolution'

In December 2010, Vice President Biden was asked about marriage equality and he noted that the White House's position, like American attitudes in general, was "evolving." Biden added that there is an "inevitability for a national consensus" in support of gay marriage.

With that in mind, Biden inched closer to that inevitable position when NBC's David Gregory raised the issue on "Meet the Press" yesterday.

For those who can't watch clips online, Biden said the question about marriage rights effectively comes down to "a simple proposition: who do you love?" He added that this principle applies equally to all couples, regardless of sexual orientation. Asked whether he's "comfortable with same-sex marriage now," the vice president said he's "absolutely comfortable" with same-sex couples enjoying "the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties."

When Gregory asked, however, whether the administration will endorse marriage equality in a second term, Biden said he doesn't know, before emphasizing the strength of President Obama's record on LGBT rights.

So, what did we learn from this exchange? It depends on whom you ask. For many, this certainly sounded as if Biden had endorsed marriage equality, taking a big step forward in the administration's "evolution" on the issue. For the White House, however, Biden didn't break new ground, and didn't explicitly endorse full marriage equality.

If you're confused as to exactly where the White House stands on this issue, as of this morning, you're not alone. It appears administration officials support giving same-sex couples "the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties" as straight couples, and at the same time, also believe they haven't endorsed marriage equality.

I don't understand it, either.

Part of the problem here is that most objective observers believe Obama and Biden are, in their heart of hearts, already on board with same-sex marriage rights, but are reluctant to say so for political reasons. As such, whether he meant to or not, Biden has increased the pressure on the president to say what many assume he already believes.

Making matters slightly worse, if the Obama team tries to walk back Biden's comments, it will only annoy the liberals the president's re-election team needs for fundraising and activism.

It stands to reason Republicans will be pleased with the center-left divisions, but it's worth noting this isn't a risk-free debate for the GOP, either -- a debate over marriage equality will necessarily lead to renewed questions about how far to the right the presumptive Republican nominee is on civil rights issues.