Cover Story

Court's Eye for the married guy

"Court's Eye for the married guy" Continued...

Issue: "Gay marriage backlash," Dec. 6, 2003

Democratic presidential hopefuls, meanwhile, are trying to preserve their political liberal base by expressing support for Goodrich while straining not to alienate centrists in the general electorate with a wholesale endorsement of what remains a radical notion. Resulting sound bites have ranged from General Wesley Clark's tiptoe-through-the-minefield post-Goodrich statement ("As president, I would support giving gays and lesbians the legal rights that married couples get") to Richard Gephardt's pained Nov. 19 pronouncement: "I do not support gay marriage, but I hope the Massachusetts state legislature will act in a manner that is consistent with today's Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling."

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said he continued to oppose "gay marriage" but wanted the Massachusetts legislature to "take action to ensure equal protection for gay couples. These protections are long overdue." Democratic frontrunner Howard Dean congratulated the Massachusetts court on paving the way for legislators to set up domestic partnerships like those he signed into law during his time as Vermont's governor. Still, he stopped short of embracing gay marriage: "One way or another, the state should afford same-sex couples equal treatment under law in areas such as health insurance, hospital visitation, and inheritance rights."

Senator-candidate Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), an adherent to Orthodox Judaism, may have worn the most pained expression last week. In 2000, while running for vice president, he said he was wrestling with the idea of gay marriage and civil unions. Three years later, he seems to have made up his mind: "Although I am opposed to gay marriage, I have also long believed that states have the right to adopt for themselves laws that allow same-sex unions."

But not only Democrats have political problems with this issue. When Dick Cheney ran for vice president in 2000, he said this: "We don't get to choose and shouldn't be able to choose and say, 'You get to live free, but you don't.' And I think that means that people should be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to enter into. It's really no one else's business in terms of trying to regulate or prohibit behavior in that regard." Mr. Cheney, whose gay daughter Mary brings her partner to White House functions, has apparently not changed his position.

Mr. Cheney's embrace of his daughter's sexual choice provides a White House connection for the Republican Unity Coalition (RUC), an effort to build a GOP where "sexual orientation is not an issue"; Mary Cheney recently joined the group's advisory board. GOP newcomer Charles Francis founded RUC after George W. Bush took office and quickly recruited party veterans-former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan, former Wyoming senator Alan Simpson, and former president Gerald Ford-to give the group gravitas.

Mr. Simpson opposes the federal marriage amendment but also thinks gay activists ought to pipe down. "To be talking all day long about gay marriage is a tragedy," he wrote in a September op-ed in The Washington Post. "We have made so much advancement in this party, in this state, in this country, and they bring up the one issue that's contentious.... Beats hell out of me why you want to drag that dead cat around.... Because see what happens? My whole party is now trying to do a constitutional amendment."

And that is the way politics is likely to play out on this question. Bush adviser Karl Rove, intent on preserving the president's conservative base for next year's election, is likely to push for a GOP pro-marriage stand that will place an albatross around Democratic necks. Squirm though they might, Democratic presidential candidates will have a hard time reaching out to those who believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, without alienating their "anything-goes" core supporters. But both parties have mixed records and motives: How this all shakes out may determine the occupant of the White House in 2005, and will certainly affect houses in every American city for decades to come.

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