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Biden notes progress in gay rights but says there is ‘much left to do’

LOS ANGELES – As hundreds of gay couples in Michigan flocked to clerks’ offices Saturday – only to have a federal appeals court again halt same-sex marriages in the state hours later – Vice President Biden made a forceful case for gay rights, both in the United States and worldwide.

“The single most basic of all human rights is the right to decide who you love,” Biden said, adding that Americans in 20 years would look back with dismay at current discrimination against gays and lesbians in some states.

“It’s been a long struggle, and recently there’s been some real progress, but there’s so much left to do,” he said.

Biden has hinted that he may run for president again in 2016. And speaking to an annual gathering of the Human Rights Campaign, an organization that works for gay, lesbian and transgender rights, Biden sought to underscore his own bona fides as a champion of gay men and lesbians, who make up an important donor base within the Democratic Party.

He acclaimed the White House’s decision not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, which the Supreme Court struck down last year, as well as the Obama administration’s open denunciations of countries that persecute gay men and lesbians, calling support for gay rights and “inseparable part” of promoting human rights around the world.

And, of course, Biden acknowledged his own slightly awkward role in pushing the president to openly support same-sex marriage.

In the midst of President Obama’s re-election campaign two years ago, Biden unexpectedly – and without prior approval from the White House – said in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he was “absolutely comfortable” with same-sex marriage.

His comments pushed Obama, who had previously said that his own views on the subject were “evolving,” to openly express his own support just days later.

Noting that his own reputation for candor that can sometimes cause political problems, he said, “I assure you, it was no surprise in the White House when I spoke out on ‘Meet the Press.’”

Other possible candidates – such as former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, who pushed through a gay marriage bill – enjoy strong support from gays and lesbians.

Introducing Biden, Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, called him “a hero,” adding, “We will never forget just how boldly Vice President Biden came out for marriage equality at a critical moment in 2012.”

Addressing the gay-rights activists assembled in the room, including a number of openly gay California politicians, Biden characterized recent victories, like the overturning of California’s ban on same-sex marriage, as part of an inexorable march toward equality.

“Your tenacity, your integrity and, yes, your physical courage and your pride bent the moral arc of this nation, which is finally moving in the right direction,” he said.

He noted that in many states, employees could still be fired because of their sexual orientation.

“It’s bizarre,” he said, adding that in 20 years, Americans would look back and ask, “How the hell could that have been allowed?”

For the most part, however, Biden focused on gays and lesbians abroad, who face persecution in Uganda, where they can be punished with life imprisonment, to Jamaica, where he said lesbians face the threat of “corrective rape,” to Russia, which passed a federal law banning “homosexual propaganda.”

“As far as we still need to go, the rest of the world has so much further to go,” he said. “Hate can never be defended because it’s a so-called cultural norm.”