Vice President Joe Biden, who is considering a 2016 presidential run, on Saturday pledged his full support for gay and transgender equality while suggesting Republican and other White House candidates are “homophobes.”
Speaking at the Human Rights Campaign’s annual gala in Washington, Biden said gays and lesbians shouldn’t fear Americans trying to undo gay marriage and other advances because the country has moved beyond homophobia.
"There's homophobes still left,” he continued to laughter and applause, in his keynote address. “Most of them are running for president, I think."
Joe Desiltes, managing partner of the Washington-area based strategy firm 21st&Main said: "Over the past several months Vice President Biden has focused on portraying himself as a statesman, as someone that is 'above the fray', and as such has seen his approval numbers rise. However, this statement shows the kind of campaign Biden plans on running and that is of a typical Democrat running negative from day one."
Biden's speech followed a morning address by front-running Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton who warned hundreds of activists and others in attendance about the potential danger of electing Ben Carson or other GOP candidates.
“We’re going to face some ridiculousness especially from our friends in the GOP,” she said. “In fact it’s already begun. Ben Carson says that marriage equality is what caused the fall of the Roman Empire.”
She also said Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, another 2016 GOP candidate, “slammed a political opponent for marching in a (gay) pride parade.”
The so-called LGBT community and the Human Rights Campaign will be an important voting bloc in the 2016 White House race, particularly in the Democratic primary.
The group contributed roughly $1.17 million in the 2014 election cycle, mostly to the Democratic Party and its candidates, committees and leadership PACs and to Democratic-leaning outside spending groups, according to OpenSecrets.org.
“If any one of them heaven forbid were ever to be elected president, they will do their best to threaten you and their families. Every single Republican candidate for president is against marriage equality,” said Clinton, who vows to make gay rights a key part of her presidency.
Her statements mark a clear political evolution, considering she opposed same-sex marriage for more than two decades in public life as first lady, senator and presidential candidate.
As recently as this year, Clinton said she personally supported gay marriage but that the issue was best left for states to decide -- a position held by most of the Republican presidential field.
Since then, she has placed equal rights at the forefront of her campaign, in part a reflection of the growing political and financial strength of the gay community in Democratic politics.
Biden also threw his unequivocal support behind letting transgender people serve openly in the U.S. military, as the Obama administration considers whether and when to lift the longstanding ban.
His declaration goes further than anything the Obama administration has said before, evoking memories of when Biden outpaced President Obama in endorsing gay marriage. Although the White House says Obama supports a Pentagon review aimed at ending the transgender ban, neither Obama nor the military has said definitively that the policy will be changed.
Biden also declared transgender rights to be "the civil rights issue of our time."
He reportedly could make his decision by this week about whether to run.
Transgender rights were a commanding focus at the group's gathering this year.
With gay marriage now law of the land nationwide, many gay rights activists have turned their attention to transgender issues, which have burst into the public spotlight only recently.
Biden won praise for endorsing gay marriage in 2012 ahead of Obama and Clinton, becoming the highest elected official to support the politically charged issue.
Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, another Democratic candidate, is also aggressively courting LGBT voters' support and working.
Clinton had been the Human Rights Campaign's first choice to keynote the dinner, but she turned it down when she was booked on "Saturday Night Live" for the same evening. The group also asked Obama to speak, then invited Biden when Obama was unavailable.
Although Biden has enjoyed strong support from gay groups, many prominent gay Democrats have committed to Clinton, who drew loud cheers whenever her face appeared in videos played before Biden's speech.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.