John Kerry assures us that he is opposed to gay marriage, although he also opposed the Defense of Marriage Act and now opposes the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment. A contradiction? The Senator appeared before a gay rights group last year, where he shared his vision of progress on this issue. Asked to explain why he supported civil unions but "opposed" gay mariage, he said this:
...What I said was we need to achieve what we can, and then we will see where we are. It may well be that if we achieve civil union, if we have leadership that advances the causes that I have described to you, that we may all of us progress as we have progressed in the last 15 years to a place where there is a different understanding of it. But at this particular moment in time, I don't believe that exists, and I want to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. I want to pass hate crimes. I want to pass federal benefit partnership rights. I want to advance us as fast and as appropriately as I think we can, but I think that one has to respect the current cultural, historical, religious perception, and I respect it.
Well, fine. Sen. Kerry wants to work through the legislative process, move public opinion along incrementally, and see how far he can lead society. If, over the next fifteen years, society can be led to accept gay marriage, he will be pleased. We certainly prefer that approach to the current extra-legal tactics in San Francisco.
The Senator has delivered an admirable statement of responsible progressive principles. But there is a world of difference between "I am opposed to gay marriage based on five thousand years of cultural and religious tradition" and "I am opposed to gay marriage... right now". I wonder whether the Senator has emphasized the fluidity of his position in his recent appearances. Has he made it clear that he differs with gay marriage advocates only on matters of timing and tactics? Perhaps we will learn more at tonight's debate.
MORE: Debate excerpt below. Still not clear whether Kerry was waffling, or pandering.
John Kerry - the courage to lead.
UPDATE: Let's put this in the mix, and ask whether civil unions can achieve the same objective.
Ron Brownstein of the LA Times has read the Senator's 1996 Senate speech in which he explained his vote opposing the Defense of Marriage Act; I have not. Yet. Mr. Brownstein does his best, and breaks a bit of news - Kerry said then that the DOMA was unconstitutional, but now has decided that it is. Conveniently decided, we will note. Unfortunately, Mr. Brownstein does not get to the question of whether Kerry opposes gay marriage on some fundamental principle, or because he thinks the time is not yet right. Roll the tape:
KING: You mentioned the constitutional amendment. Rosie O'Donnell today got married in San Francisco. I think Ron Brownstein has a question in that regard.
BROWNSTEIN: Let me ask you, Senator. I want to sort of burrow in a little bit and understand your views of exactly what the role of Washington is, Senator Kerry.
You say you oppose gay marriage. You also oppose the constitutional amendment to ban -- federal constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
Do you think Georgia and Ohio, or any other state, should have to recognize a gay marriage performed in California or Massachusetts? And if not, why did you vote against the Defense of Marriage Act, designed to prevent that, in 1996?
KERRY: I said very clearly -- I could not have been more clear on the floor of the United States Senate. My speech starts out expressing my personal opinion, that I do not believe -- you know, I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.
But notwithstanding that belief, there was no issue in front of the country when that was put before the United States Senate.
And I went to the floor of the Senate and said -- even though I was up for reelection, "I will not take part in gay bashing on the floor of the United States Senate. I will not allow the Senate to be used...
... for that kind of rhetoric."
BROWNSTEIN: But you also said in that statement...
KERRY: But let me just finish.
BROWNSTEIN: You also said in that statement that you believe the Defense of Marriage Act was fundamentally unconstitutional. And if the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, isn't President Bush right, that the only way to guarantee that no state has to recognize a gay marriage performed in any other state is a federal constitutional amendment?
KERRY: In fact, I think the interpretation -- I think, under the full faith and credit laws, that I was incorrect in that statement. I think, in fact, that no state has to recognize something that is against their public policy.
And for 200 years, we have left marriage up to the states. There is no showing whatsoever today that any state in the country, including my own -- which is now dealing with its own constitutional amendment -- is incapable of dealing with what they would like to do.
KERRY: And I believe George Bush is doing this -- he's even reversed his own position. He's reversed Dick Cheney's position. He is doing this because he's in trouble. He's trying to reach out to his base. He's playing politics with the Constitution of the United States.
BROWNSTEIN: But let me just nail down one thing very quickly.
So are you saying that, now that gay marriage is on the table in a place like California or Massachusetts, that you would support the Defense of Marriage Act?
KERRY: No, because...
BROWNSTEIN: That it's not...
KERRY: ... the Defense of Marriage Act is the law of the land today.
KING: And you would support it today?
BROWNSTEIN: And you would leave it...
KERRY: ... no votes to take it back. And I think it's more important right now to pass the employment nondiscrimination act, hate crimes legislation, and begin to move us forward so we have on the books those laws that will allow us to protect people in this country.
MORE: The NY Times laughs at this:
But with the issue now at center stage, Mr. Kerry found himself in the position of defending his vote in 1996 against the Defense of Marriage Act, a law that bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages and allows each state to ignore such marriages performed in other states. He sought to reconcile his vote then with his statement this week that states should not be forced to recognize gay marriages conducted in other states.
Mr. Kerry said he had considered the Senate debate on the legislation an instance of gay-bashing. But he said he was mistaken in 1996 when he asserted that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional. He suggested, vaguely, that he would vote against it were it to appear before Congress again. Mr. Edwards pounced on that.
"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," he said. "I'm not sure what he said about that. But I would not vote for it."
Death penalty problems for Tall John, as well.