Candor and gay marriage

During the primaries, I thought that the Republicans’ gay-baiting would force the Democrats to take a principled stand on gay marriage. I was wrong. I reckoned without Dick Cheney.

In last night’s debate, Cheney appeared most humane and most honest when he stood by his gay daughter and conceded that he would have preferred it if Bush had not embraced a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Edwards, on this one issue, seemed to be merely politicking. Edwards’s reassurance to the audience that the proposed amendment would be “unnecessary” to gay marriage opponents is meaningless. If the amendment would make no difference, why do gay groups so bitterly oppose it? In fact, it might make a difference. Without such an amendment, a judge in North Carolina (or elsewhere) could decide that the full faith and credit clause of the constitution requires his state to recognize a Massachusetts gay marriage. After all, what precedents would a judge cite if he chose not to recognize it? Century-old refusals to recognize mixed-race marriages from out of state? And Edwards was less than forthcoming when he suggested that domestic partnerships would do the job of protecting gay couples as well as marriage would.

The Democratic candidates should be thankful that Cheney’s principles have given them coverage on this issue. But I don’t want to be misunderstood: Cheney may have enough moral stamina to voice a reservation, but he is nonetheless the vice presidential candidate of a party that is deliberately gay-baiting in order to galvanize the voters in its base. There are an astonishing number of ballot measures and pieces of legislation this year that would outlaw gay marriage. Many are in swing states, which is no accident. According to the Human Rights Campaign, gay marriage has been outlawed this year in Louisiana and Missouri, and the question is pending in another dozen or so states. The Democrats may have chosen to be strategic and soft-pedal this issue, but the Republicans are exploiting fear, ignorance, and bigotry for partisan advantage.