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.