Democratic activist Kal Penn interviewed Joe Biden for The Daily Show this week. Penn begins one of his questions by pointing out that the president had “codified” both gay marriage and interracial marriage — as if either was in any danger whatsoever — and asks him what his philosophical evolution on “marriage equality” looks like. After all, Penn notes, now that trans kids are dealing with “regressive” state laws (banning surgical and pharmaceutical mutilation), it’s important to know.
“I can remember exactly when my epiphany was,” the president says. And though Biden admits he hadn’t thought much about gay marriage as a senior in high school in 1960, one time, “my dad was dropping me off, and I remember I am about to get out of the car and looked to my right and two well-dressed men in suits kissed each other.” Biden goes on to say: “And I’ll never forget it; I turned and looked at my dad. And he said: ‘Joey, it’s simple; they love each other.’”
This, of course, never happened. As I’ve noted before, Biden is a practitioner of the George Costanza school of “it’s not a lie if you believe it.” Other people’s lives are passing before his eyes. We’re probably about a year away from Biden telling media about the time he dated a drag queen named Hedda Hair in college because his dad had told him, “Joey, gender is just a social construct.”
The story of a gay couple kissing on the streets of 1960 Wilmington has become a Biden standard in recent years. He probably invented it sometime in 2015 and then used it regularly at gay rights speeches. Though in other iterations, it is a bit more cinematic and detailed. Here it is in 2020:
And I was being dropped off to get an application in the center of our city; Wilmington, Delaware, the corporate capital of the world at the time. And these two men, I’m getting out to get an application to be a lifeguard in the African American community because there was a big swimming pool complex.
And these two men, well dressed, leaned up and hugged one another and kissed one another. And I’m getting out of the car at the light and I turn to my dad. My dad looked at me and said, “Joey, it’s simple. They love each other.”
Even if he believed this story, it would only mean that Biden had spent over 50 years ignoring his dad’s progressive outlook. In 1973, more than a decade after his epiphany, Biden said that his gut reaction to allowing gays to work in the federal government was that they were “security risks” — though he hadn’t “given it much thought.” More than 30 years after his Catholic working-class dad told him that love was love, Joey voted for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.
Joseph R. Biden Sr. was probably devastated by this betrayal. In 2006, Biden was still defending the law, telling Tim Russert that “marriage is between a man and a woman and states must respect that.” Asked if he would support gay marriage during the 2008 vice presidential debate, Biden answered, “No. Barack Obama nor I support redefining from a civil side what constitutes marriage.” The Reuters piece detailing the debate is headlined: “Palin, Biden agree on gay rights at debate.”
In 2019, Biden alleged that, unlike Obama, he “didn’t have to evolve at all” on gay marriage. It is weird that the first time Biden is on the record publicly supporting gay marriage was on Meet the Press on May 4, 2012, two years after Barack Obama said his views on gay marriage were “evolving” and 52 years after his alleged epiphany. In truth, as with virtually every issue in his 50-year political life, Joey takes whatever position makes him popular in the Democratic Party.