On a conference call with reporters today, David Axelrod tried to clean up the mess Joe Biden made yesterday on gay marriage. In the process, Axelrod ony demonstrated again that ever since Obama declared he’s “evolving” on the issue, his position just hasn’t been tenable.

As you know, Biden said he is “very comfortable with the fact that” same sex “marrying” couples are “entitled to the same exact rights,” and that he sees “no distinction beyond that.”

On the call, Axelrod denied that Biden’s remarks suggested a break with the president. “They were entirely consistent with the president’s position, which is that couples that are married are entitled to the very same rights and very same liberties,” Axelrod said.

Tellingly, Axelrod tried to turn this back on Romney, arguing that Romney’s record on gay rights contrasts sharply with that of Obama.

Romney has “funded efforts to roll back marriage laws in California and other places,” and “believes we need a constitutional amendment banning the right of gay couples to marry,” Axelrod said, adding that Romney would “take us backward, not forward, so there’s a very clear distinction in this race.”

And that’s true. But what it really suggests is that the Obama campaign, even after the raised hopes in the wake of Biden’s comments, is banking on Romney’s awful record on gay rights to lessen the impact of his own failure to evolve on the issue, which now looks unlikely to happen until after the election.

Andrew Sullivan parses Biden’s comments and concludes that Biden did not come out in favor of gay marriage. Biden was saying, albeit clumsily, that he’s comfortable with equal rights, not full equality.

But in a way, the confusion over what Biden meant is exactly the point, and again reminds us that Obama’s position just won’t wash. Obama’s claim that he’s evolving on the issue, and his very good record on gay rights generally, has paradoxically made it harder for Obama to continue holding out against gay marriage. His “evolving” position and overall record have left gay advocates fully persuaded that he does favor full equality for gay and lesbian Americans, increasing impatience for him to say so already, and making them all the more certain that his failure to do so is rooted in nothing but political calculation.

All this ends up making it an even bigger deal when someone like Biden seems to be completing that evolution, even if he isn’t. Obama’s good record on gay rights has only served to raise the stakes on his failure to get it right on the issue that goes perhaps most directly to the heart of whether gays and lesbians will have full equality in this country. And so when Axelrod observes accurately that there’s a very a clear contrast between the two men on gay rights, while qualifying it by reminding us that neither Obama nor Biden is prepared to support full equality, it only risks angering people more.


UPDATE: Then there’s the fact that Obama punted on that executive order barring same-sex discrimination by federal contractors, even though 72 members of Congress have now called on him to issue the order and the pressure is likely to mount in other quarters.