Pam Spaulding

Biden, Palin and that pesky marriage thing

Filed By Pam Spaulding | October 04, 2008 4:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: Joe Biden, marriage equality, same-sex marriage, Sarah Palin, vice presidential debates

My wrap on last night's debate included the clip of the exchange between Senator Joe Biden and Governor Sarah Palin on the topic of same-sex marriage. With a couple of hours of sleep now under my belt, I wanted to return to the matter.

First of all, it's noteworthy that the issue of marriage equality has largely been ignored by both presidential candidates, given that three marriage amendments are on the ballot (FL, CA, AZ). This debate presented an opportunity to have the vice presidential candidates speak about the issue to a huge, engaged audience.

Moderator Gwen Ifill couched the question this way, in order to point out that Palin signed a bill extending partner benefits in Alaska (she opposed this, but given the state's high court decision, didn't veto it).

Do you support, as they do in Alaska, granting same-sex benefits to couples?

Much more after the jump.

Biden was first up, and did not hesitate in his response. The relevant nugget:

[I]n an Obama-Biden administration, there will be absolutely no distinction from a constitutional standpoint or a legal standpoint between a same-sex and a heterosexual couple...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.

He went on to state that the Obama/Biden ticket's position is that marriage is between a man and a woman.

Barack Obama nor I support redefining from a civil side what constitutes marriage. We do not support that. That is basically the decision to be able to be able to be left to faiths and people who practice their faiths the determination what you call it.

This left Palin precious little wiggle room to differentiate herself other than to say she's personally not a bigot.

But I also want to clarify, 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 that they deem best for themselves, you know, I am tolerant and I have a very diverse family and group of friends 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.

Joe Biden's answer boxed in Sarah Palin, forcing her to give a feeble, confusing answer that probably left her supporters on the far right unhappy. One -- she holds the same position on marriage as Obama/Biden, so that was off the table. Two -- it left her to use a "some of my best friends are gay" position, and acknowledged that gay and lesbian couples deserve some rights. [BTW, the Log Cabin Republicans have no basis to say that Palin's comments reflect any evolutionary thinking on McCain/Palin's part, it only raises the question of what rights they intend to deny gay couples. I eagerly await the delusional cheerleading reaction on the LCR blog.]

To have her say this before millions had to give James Dobson, Lou Sheldon, Gary Bauer and Tony Perkins agita. On the other hand, her answer is clearly misleading in terms of the general audience not well-versed of these issues, and sadly, moderator Gwen Ifill did a poor job of following up. The obvious question is whether, in a McCain/Palin administration, they would support civil unions as an alternative to marriage equality, since Joe Biden slyly asserted that they hold the same overall position. Biden:

The bottom line though is, and I'm glad to hear the governor, I take her at her word, obviously, 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, we really don't have a difference.

Palin didn't object, and only stated:

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

This was a grand slam moment, given what is politically viable in a nationwide election in 2008. As has been the case with all of the Democratic candidates in the primaries (save Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich), this election cycle's answer has been to state that "marriage" is between a man and a woman, but validate that our relationships must be given equal legal status. This answer isn't a pleasant one to hear, but both Sen. Biden and Sen. Barack Obama know full well that the foolish "separate but equal, leave it to the states" position will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Palin's statement -- and silence -- can now be parsed and is rife for followup. John McCain (or Gov. Palin) should now clarify the ticket's position:exactly which benefits should be denied to same-sex couples on that continuum between hospital visitation rights, legal contracts that they approve of and full-blown civil marriage?

Now of course I realize that for some of you out there who are frustrated by the inability for the Democratic candidates to advocate for civil marriage equality by name, but I'll take purity of intent at this date and time over haggling over the word "marriage" in a presidential race. The courts have in California have already decided separate is not equal and marriage equality in Massachusetts has not destroyed the family, civilization or the earth. Moreover, we all know that while social conservatives are clinging to the word marriage, their agenda is to ensure that there is no proliferation of civil unions either -- they do not want any social validation of our relationships, regardless of what they are called.

At this point and time, I presume the far right realizes that a complete opposition to any rights for same-sex couples is perceived as outright bigotry by the majority of the American public. In addition, gay couples can already cobble together barebones rights (albeit at great time and legal expense) that heterosexual couples take for granted. Marriage seals those legal rights and hundreds more in one fell swoop, with the additional benefit of social recognition.

The social conservatives are the ones trapped in an inconsistent moral and ethical position regarding their "close gay friends" or family, since they support institutionalizing and preserving current discrimination against those loved ones. Sarah Palin acknowledged the humanity of gays and lesbians (as opposed to the predator strawman anti-gay, professional "Christian" organizations have relied upon each election cycle) in her life. The hypocrisy, now exposed, is breathtaking.

The Obama/Biden position traps them in legal separate-but-equal inconsistency on same-sex marriage, particularly since its status is in flux all around the country. Their view is markedly different than McCain/Palin because they promote the extension of rights at every other level.

I'll take the latter any day; McCain/Palin, along with Dobson and his ilk, have a morally bankrupt argument to defend.

The exchange from last night:


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You use the phrase "purity of intent" to defend the right of Biden and the Democrats to be wrong. As usual, I'm disappointed in your willingness (and the same of others) to excuse an inconsistent position out of political expediency.

Instead of parsing Palin's prose lets take a closer look at Biden's bland banter.

His first statement was: "[I]n an Obama-Biden administration, there will be absolutely no distinction from a constitutional standpoint or a legal standpoint between a same-sex and a heterosexual couple..."

His last statement was: "Barack Obama nor I support redefining from a civil side what constitutes marriage. We do not support that."

So in other words - the constitution defends the position that same-sex couples are equal to heterosexual couples, but the Obama/Biden administration doesn't support equal treatment so they are willing to ignore the constitution.

Palin's mush mouth ramblings might have caught the attention of the right wing fanatics that were listening (does anyone really understand anything she says?). If those people WERE paying attention then they also heard Biden speak out of both sides of his mouth.

Why can't the Democrats have a coherent position in regard to human rights?

Do they think they are fooling anyone by walking a tightrope? No one on the right thinks the Democrats agree with their definition of marriage, yet Biden/Obama persist with this incomprehensible, cowardly, pandering.

This is supposed to mark a "grand slam" moment?

I doubt it. Unless there is some whining on the right about Palin not being enough of an asshole, then this Biden grand slam is more like a walk following four balls.

Anti-climactic at best.

We all would have been better served had this debate been open to all candidates instead of reserved for the two parties to rake us over the coals with the help of the ill-informed Ifil:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pN24rhMI9IE

I follow your reasoning, but as my post here earlier today noted, Palin opposes the benefits granted to state employees with same-sex partners and has made that clear. She's got enough public comments on that to satisfy the right wing of the party. Whatever talk she may have talked during the debate, her walk is clear...and it is totally away from any partner recognition.

Nancy, I couldn't agree more. This has always been my stand. Make all marriages/unions eligible for equal benefits. If a couple wants to have their religious entity declare them "married", great! My partner and I were "married" in our Unity church, but now we have to wait until November in Iowa to see if we can be "married" in Iowa. Considering that one gay couple here in Ames made the cutoff over a year ago and Iowa wasn't destroyed by the wrothful Hand of "God (barring a lot of rain, though), I don't think my partner and I will have too much longer before we at least share state benefits. (And don't call me wife!)

I'm hoping the government will also revive the practice of separate drinking fountains, SusanKay.

Give all coloreds/non-coloreds access to their own drinking fountains. If a colored person wants to have a drink of water in public, great! Just the other day I had a sip of water in a public park, but now we have to wait until November in California to see if we have to fight for our own specific fountain to use.

Considering that the country wasn't destroyed by the wrathful Hand of "God" when we had separate fountains 50 years ago and Biden/Obama think they can bring us back to that accomplishment no matter how it might conflict with Constitutional ideals, I look forward to having the ability to enjoy my own non-colored source of public water.

(And don't call me colored!)

Patrick said: So in other words - the constitution defends the position that same-sex couples are equal to heterosexual couples, but the Obama/Biden administration doesn't support equal treatment so they are willing to ignore the constitution

I must disagree on a basis of fact. The Federal Constitution states no opinion on the institution of marriage. Never has and never should in either direction.

The Founding Father's purposely intended to let social institutions set their own policy. Moreover, the right to worship as an individual's inherent right as codified in the 1st Amendment.

Therefore the right to define "marriage" in the religious sense is at the discretion of a church not the state or federal government.

This is the principle articulated by Senator Biden's latter statement.

However, both Federal and (most)State Constitution's have clauses that guarantee no class of citizens shall be granted "privileges or distinctions" while concurrently denying the same "privileges or distinctions" to another class of citizens.

As such, this is what Senator Biden meant by no difference from a constitutional standpoint or a legal standpoint between a same-sex and a heterosexual couples.

Therefore, my view is that state level "Marriage" contracts need to be replaced by "civil contracts of partnerships" for both heterosexual and same-sex couples.

If one church would not marry a same-sex couple, based on their outdated theology, it is for certain that a different church would find no problem performing a same-sex marriage ceremony.

Freedom is a beautiful thing.

Reality is a beautiful thing too, Alli. And let me tell you - if it is an impossibility for politicians to discuss (or even approach discussing) the equal protections of same sex couples, then they also will never be getting around to your idea of converting marriage into a civil contract.

Imagine that compromise for a moment. Oh I'm sure James Dobson would reluctantly, yet willingly, agree that the way to resolve this ongoing dilemma would be to change marriage into a purely religious institution in order to accommodate the gays.

Yeah, that's the answer!

Since Senator Biden didn't go to the trouble of actually explaining what he means by a constitutional distinction I believe that he is making a reference to the CA Supreme Court decision that supports the extension of equal protections to same sex couples via marriage rights.

By making that connection, the Senator admits that it is incompatible to allow heterosexual couples a liberty that is denied to same sex couples - which is the language of the 14th amendment:

"No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

See? He doesn't think it is fair to deny any person the equal protection of the laws that are extended to other people, yet he is also willing to abridge the privileges of same sex families by offering a right to them - and only them - because they aren't good enough to have the rights that already exist for everyone else.

The constitution doesn't have to specifically discuss marriage in the application of equal protections anymore than it had to specifically discuss colored drinking fountains or seating on public transportation.

Sheila Coats | October 5, 2008 1:35 PM

I really don't like how the two parties differentiate between the two words Civil Union and Marriage. Marriage is a Civil Union and to say they are different is misleading. I think that Obama and company should re-evaluate their diffinition of Marriage is between one man and one woman, afterall, how many times do people get married and divorced?
I would also like to say that I'm in a same sex marriage and have been for 39 years. I claim it on my taxes and it is well known. There are a lot of same sex marriages in the United States. It is called Transexual. You can put all the excuses you want, but we are still married and same sex. The world has not gone tipsy over this and we did not make the stock market go bonkers.

Patrick said: Oh I'm sure James Dobson would reluctantly, yet willingly, agree that the way to resolve this ongoing dilemma would be to change marriage into a purely religious institution in order to accommodate the gays.

Since we are discussing "reality"....

The reality is that both Federal and State Constitutions forbid the respective governments from favoring one religion. Sanctifying a Judeo-Christian union in the form of a "Marriage" contract thoroughly violates aforementioned principle, while simultaneously creating two separate classes of citizens.

Those who abide by Judeo-Christian dogma and those who do not.

The corrective measure is to re-codify the marriage contract as a civil contractual agreement between partners.

Now please stop, as it is not my cup of tea to be in a position of defending statements made by Senator Joe Biden.

However facts is facts, as they say.

Well then defend your own statements and not his.

What does Judeo-Christian dogma have to do with going to City Hall and obtaining a marriage license? There is no religious component to the state issuing a license to a couple who are then recognized by the government - local, state and federal; all over the country and throughout the world - as married couple.

They are not recognized as Christian couple. They are not a Jewish married couple. They are not a Protestant union. They are not Episcopal, Catholic, Satanist or Agnostic...they are considered spouses.

You are injecting the religious component here and are stuffing the words into Bidens mouth trying to make his position sound thoughtful and strategic.

You are under no obligation to defend him and I recommend that that you stop. You aren't helping him or advancing a logical argument worthy of defending.

Patrick said: What does Judeo-Christian dogma have to do with going to City Hall and obtaining a marriage license? There is no religious component to the state issuing a license to a couple who are then recognized by the government

Excuse me sir, but having read a number of your posts, perhaps dropping your snark might clear up the philosophical/logical block you seem to be suffering.

Unless you have lived under a rock, those opposed to same sex unions have relied on the traditional definition of marriage to retain the prohivbition of same-sex unions. Marriage is a word and institution which traces its etymology through the church.

Therefore, a "marriage" contract is unconstitutional from the standpoint that it is rooted and only bestowed upon individuals who are adhering to the organized religion's definition.

Hence the removal of the religious aspect of said contract shall not only remove the state sanctioning of a theology, but it will also then allow the equal application of the civil-contract to all people within a state, whilst defeating the theological bigots one and only philosophical point.

Patrick said: What does Judeo-Christian dogma have to do with going to City Hall and obtaining a marriage license? There is no religious component to the state issuing a license to a couple who are then recognized by the government

Excuse me sir, but having read a number of your posts, perhaps dropping your snark might clear up the philosophical/logical block you seem to be suffering.

Unless you have lived under a rock, those opposed to same sex unions have relied on the traditional definition of marriage to retain the prohibition of same-sex unions. Marriage is a word and institution which traces its etymology through the church.

Therefore, a "marriage" contract is unconstitutional from the standpoint that it is rooted and only bestowed upon individuals who are adhering to the organized religion's definition.

Hence the removal of the religious aspect of said contract shall not only remove the state sanctioning of a theology, but it will also then allow the equal application of the civil-contract to all people within a state, whilst defeating the theological bigots one and only philosophical point.

I am aware of the faux tradition argument. It is a false argument (and it is never rebutted as evidenced in the VP debate) because it is based only upon the fact that heterosexuals have been the only citizens allowed to be married, even though that is only part of the story.

Religions do not approve of divorce, at least Christianity doesn't. They don't grant divorces at church. The state has been involved for a long long time in the creation of marriage, the designation of privileges and responsibilities that accompany legal marriage and the dissolution of marriage.

They - the religionists - might push an argument about the importance of tradition, but it is not honest and the argument is a way to hide bigotry. The politicians, like Biden and Palin, might choose to waltz around the tradition talk because they think it makes them look moral, but that doesn't mean that it is truthful (any more than it makes them moral).

I don't think you have discovered the missing link to the same-sex marriage dilemma. I'm sorry if I sound like I have an attitude. My tone is not about you, necessarily, as it is about this never ending conversation about a topic that is made much more complicated than it needs to be.

I'm tired of being misrepresented by politicians that portray themselves as advocates for me and I'm also tired of disagreeing with all the people that I am supposed to agree with...the ones that think marriage is assimilationist, the ones that say citizenship (disguised as marriage) isn't worth fighting for and the ones that think it is simpler to redefine religion than it is to enforce constitutional principles that already exist.

Well the LGBT community as a monolith is welcome to keep beating its head against the wall concentrating on the word "marriage" at the detriment of obtaining the benefits contained within the civil contract by years or decades.

Moreover, regardless that Californians will likely defeat their ballot initiative, Arizonans look like they will pass its ballot initiative.

All this banter over the word marriage only seeks to keep same-sex unions as a wedge issue, which benefits none within our republic.

When the Center for American Progress and the Cato Institute, think-tanks with differing political ideologies, come to this same conclusion both in 2005 and 2006, it is rather astounding our community refuses to listen.

Can I just say that I'd have been much happier if Gwen had asked about DADT, HIV/AIDS funding, ENDA or a myriad of other LGBT issues. Why does it always go back to marriage? Because it's the issue that divides the country the most?!?

Ignoring the topic won't resolve it...not that resolving it would benefit either party. (Watch the video link at the bottom, Bil)

Bringing up marriage helps the right wing fawn over their candidate and it helps the left feel like their candidate understands the topic and is still trying to find a way to oppose their opponent yet not embrace the opposing position.

Asking about marriage is a great way to make the candidates squirm. It's all about drama and ratings.

Just imagine how the debate would have gone if they had the courage to invite a candidate that really IS a maverick, not just one of the pigs with hair plugs or lipstick (and he is hot):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pN24rhMI9IE