Friday, February 27, 2004

An interesting wrinkle on gay marriage. Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but I thought John Edwards said something surprising and significant about gay marriage at last night's debate. Like John Kerry, Edwards opposes same-sex marriage and the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, a stance that places both of them squarely in the middle. (Kerry voted against DOMA; Edwards was not a senator at the time.)

Here is the relevant exchange:

EDWARDS: Here is my belief. I believe that this is an issue that ought to be decided in the states. I think the federal government should honor whatever decision is made by the states.

I want to say a word in answer to the question you asked very directly. I would not support the Defense of Marriage Act today, if there were a vote today, which is the question you just asked Senator Kerry. I'm not sure what he said about that.

LARRY KING: You would not vote for it?

EDWARDS: I would not. I would not for a very simple reason. There's a part of it - there's a part of it that I agree with, and there's a part of it I disagree with.

The Defense of Marriage Act specifically said that the federal government is not required to recognize gay marriage even if a state chooses to do so. I disagree with that.

I think states should be allowed to make that decision. And the federal government shouldn't do it.

And can I say just one other word about -

RON BROWNSTEIN: The part that you agree with is what?

EDWARDS: Well, the part I agree with is the states should not be required to recognize marriages from other states. That's already in the law, by the way, without DOMA.

Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me that Kerry has never given a reason for voting against DOMA beyond his concern that it was a form of "gay-bashing." Edwards, by contrast, is saying something very specific: that marriage should be left entirely to the states, and - here's the crucial part - if a state decides that gay marriage is okay, then the federal government should honor that, and allow married same-sex couples from that state to collect Social Security, receive married-couple tax breaks, and all of the 1000-plus federal benefits that equal-rights advocates cite.

Not to give Edwards a pass. As this April 2003 Boston Globe story makes clear, Kerry explicitly advocates civil-union rights for gay and lesbian couples, whereas Edwards has shown some reluctance. But Edwards's willingness to defer to states that let gays and lesbians marry is interesting nevertheless.

Edwards also doesn't have the political problem of coming from a state that is wrestling with the issue. Still, Kerry has tied himself into knots. His current position - for an amendment to the state constitution that would ban marriage but guarantee civil unions, and against an anti-marriage amendment to the US Constitution - is almost a parody of Kerry's congenital need to have it both ways on every issue.

Yes, there is a certain logic to his seemingly contradictory stands (Mitt's pandering as usual, in other words), but politics is about passion and symbols as much as it is about logic and legislation. George W. Bush is going to paint Kerry as a gay-marriage supporter anyway. Would that Kerry were bold enough to make it so.

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