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VP candidates agree on Gay marriage - or not
VP candidates agree on Gay marriage - or not
by Lisa Keen - Keen News Service

To hear debate moderator Gwen Ifill sum it up, the two vice presidential candidates "agree" on Gay marriage. But that's not what all LGBT viewers concluded during Thursday night's nationally televised debate in St. Louis.

After getting six questions on the economy and three questions on the environment, the vice presidential nominees were asked about legal rights for same-sex couples. The question was awkwardly worded, but in the end, most LGBT viewers seemed impressed with the strength of Democrat Joe Biden's answer and under-impressed with that of Republican Sarah Palin.

PBS Moderator Ifill asked the two candidates: "Do you support, as they do in Alaska, granting same-sex benefits to couples?" She probably meant "benefits to same-sex couples," and she should have noted that those benefits are available only to state employees in Alaska and are available only because the state supreme court ordered the state to provide them.

She tossed the question first to Biden, who answered as if the moderator had asked about equal protection for Gay and straight couples.

"Do I support granting same-sex benefits?" repeated Biden. "Absolutely, positively."

"In an Obama-Biden administration," he said, "there will be absolutely no distinction from a constitutional standpoint or a legal standpoint between a same-sex and a heterosexual&."

Interestingly, at this point, CSPAN provided a split-screen and viewers could see Palin raising her eyebrows briefly.

"Fact of the matter is, under the constitution, we should be granted - same-sex couples should be able to have visitation rights in the hospitals, joint ownership of property, life insurance policies, et cetera. That's only fair. It's what the constitution calls for.

"And so we do support, we do support making sure that committed couples in a same-sex marriage are guaranteed the same constitutional benefits as it relates to their property rights, their rights of visitation, their rights to insurance, their rights of ownership as heterosexual couples do."

Ifill then directed the question to Republican Sarah Palin, with a slight tweak: "Governor, would you support expanding that beyond Alaska to the rest of the nation?"

"Well, not if it goes closer and closer towards redefining the traditional definition of marriage between one man and one woman," said Palin, "and, unfortunately that's sometimes where those steps lead."

"But I also want to clarify," continued Palin. "If there's any kind of suggestion at all from my answer that I would be anything but tolerant of adults in America choosing their partners, choosing relationships they deem best for themselves, you know - I am tolerant." However, her body language - a brief shaking of the head with her eyes closed each time she pronounced what "they" chose as best for "themselves" - seemed to signal a level of discomfort or disagreement with those choices.

"I have a very diverse family and group of friends," said Palin, suddenly smiling and appearing more comfortable. "And even within that group, you would see some who may not agree with me on this issue, some very dear friends who don't agree with me on this issue.

"But in that tolerance also, no one would ever propose, not in a McCain-Palin administration, to do anything to prohibit, say, visitations in a hospital or contracts being signed, negotiated between parties.

"But, I will tell Americans straight-up that I don't support defining marriage as anything but between one man and one woman, and I think through nuances we can go round and round about what that actually means. But I'm being as straight up with Americans as I can in my non-support for anything but a traditional definition of marriage."

In one of her rare attempts during the debate to pin the candidates down on a position, moderator Ifill followed up: "Let's try to avoid nuance," she said to Senator Biden. "Do you support Gay marriage?"

"No," said Biden. "Barack Obama nor I support redefining from a civil side what constitutes marriage. We do not support that." He then made a somewhat muddled statement about leaving "the decision" to "faiths and people who practice their faiths" to decide "what you call it."

Biden then said that his interpretation of Palin's remarks indicated that "she thinks there should be no civil rights distinction, none whatsoever, between a committed Gay couple and a committed heterosexual couple."

"If that's the case," said Biden, "we really don't have a difference."

Ifill asked Palin if that was, in fact, what she said.

"Your question to him was whether he supported Gay marriage," said Palin, "and my answer is the same as his, and it is that I do not."

"Wonderful," concluded Ifill. "You agree."

Do they agree?
Some LGBT viewers saw the answers much as Ifill did.

Michael Stara, chairman of the Pennsylvania Log Cabin Republican chapter, said he was delighted to see that both candidates appeared to be supportive of civil unions.

Others felt the distinctions were at least muddled.

Political blogger Pam Spaulding said Biden "hit it out of the park," given, she said, that the political bar on Gay marriage this year has been set at marriages is between a man and a woman but Gay couples should have the same rights and benefits. Spaulding said she thinks Palin's answer "probably left her supporters on the far right unhappy" - "she holds the same position on marriage as Obama/Biden, so that was off the table."

Jimmy LaSalvia, director of program and policy for national Log Cabin, said, "They agreed to agree."

Evan Wolfson, head of the national Freedom to Marry group, applauded Biden for his support that Gay couples be treated equally under the law but dinged him, too.

"His comments garbled the distinction between religious rites of marriage, properly left to religions to decide, and the legal right to marry, regulated by the government, which should not discriminate," said Wolfson. And Wolfson chided Biden for "using the anti-Gay forces' false talking-point - introduced by Governor Palin - that ending Gay couples' exclusion from marriage is 'redefining' marriage; marriage is not 'defined' by who is denied it."

And while Palin, said Wolfson, apparently "felt obliged to go out of her way to proclaim herself 'tolerant,' her position against Gay marriage "raises the question of why the law should then discriminate against those Americans."

Final, overall score?
Various focus groups and polls conducted by CNN, CBS, and other mainstream broadcast media immediately after the debate all indicated that a majority of viewers felt Biden had "won" the debate but that Palin had gone a long way toward repairing some of the damage to her reputation that she had inflicted during the previous week's interview with CBS News anchor Katie Couric. In that interview, Palin seemed ill-prepared to answer even simple questions, like what newspapers she reads. She seemed to have no familiarity with Supreme Court decisions beyond Roe v. Wade, and appeared to get lost while answering more complex questions. The $700 billion "bailout" bill, she said, helps health care reform. Then, looking down frequently, she started rattling off "job creation," "reduces taxes," "reining in spending," and "trade as opportunity."

About Gay people, Republican vice presidential nominee She reiterated that she has Gay friends and doesn't judge Gay people.

"As for homosexuality," said Palin to Couric, "I am not going to judge Americans and the decisions that they make in their adult personal relationships. I have - one of my absolute best friends for the last 30 years who happens to be Gay, and I love her dearly. And she's not my Gay friend, she is one of my best friends who happens to have made a choice that isn't a choice that I would have made but I am not going to judge people."

The second presidential debate will be a town meeting in which audience members will pose questions to the two candidates. It is being staged in Nashville, Tennessee, Tuesday, October 7.

©2008 Keen News Service

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