Did Obama just evolve a bit more towards supporting gay marriage? The campaign insists he didn’t. But that isn’t stopping speculation to the contrary.

Last night, Michelle Obama used some suggestive language that gay advocates are taking as a positive sign. And yet, her language was just vague enough to again underscore the confusion that surrounds the White House’s position on this issue.

At a fundraiser last night, the First Lady talked about the importance of Obama’s nominees to the Supreme Court, and seemed to refer to marriage equality:

For the first time in history, our daughters and our sons watched three women take their seat on our nation’s highest court. And let us not forget what their decisions — the impact those decisions will have on our lives for decades to come -– on our privacy and security, on whether we can speak freely, worship openly, and, yes, love whomever we choose. But that’s what’s at stake. That’s the choice that we face.

The First Lady says here that Obama’s appointees to the Supreme Court will uphold the right to “love whomever we choose.”

Though her aides say she has said this before, gay rights advocates are seizing on the language for the first time. One prominent advocate, Richard Socarides, says the language will be received as code for saying that Obama’s Supreme Court appointees will uphold the right to gay marriage. Several cases involving gay marriage may be headed for the highest court, so to advocates, Ms. Obama’s language seems telling.

But the First Lady has repeatedly denied backing marriage equality. And a campaign official insists to me the new language isn’t significant.

“This is something that’s always been a part of the first lady’s stump speech," the official said. “She’s referring to a range of legal rights, such as hospital visitation rights, and she’s in sync with the president on the issue.”

So the right to “love whomever we choose,” does not include the right to marry?

That’s the question gay advocates will continue asking, Socarides tells me: At best language like this will come across as support for gay marriage, particularly given Obama’s good gay rights record. At worst, it will sow more confusion.

“In this political environment, when you use language like that, you are sending a message,” Socarides says. “Does the freedom to love whomever we choose not include the freedom to marry? When you have a policy position in the state of perpetual evolution, these are the kinds of problems that are created.”

In other words: Evolve already.


UPDATE: Kristina Schake, the First Lady’s communications director, responds:

That line in the First Lady’s remarks has been in her campaign speeches since last summer and refers to the importance of the Supreme Court for deciding many issues. The President and First Lady firmly believe that gay and lesbian Americans and their families deserve legal protections and the ability to thrive just like any other family. The First Lady has said she is proud of the President’s accomplishments for gay and lesbian Americans on a range of issues, including repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, ensuring hospital visitation rights and calling for the repeal of DOMA.