October 02, 2008
Palin and Biden on gay marriage
Posted by: Chris
Taking a closer look at the gay Q&A from the vice presidential debate (transcript excerpt below), Joe Biden was surprisingly strong in his answer. Moving beyond the bromides about hospital visitation and the like, he said: "Look, in 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."
In fact, Biden even went so far as to essentially declare the federal Defense of Marriage Act -- which he voted for! -- is unconstitutional. If in his view the Constitution requires that gay married couples be treated the same as straight married couples, then federal DOMA, which prohibits the federal government from giving any recognition or benefits to gay married couples, is unconstitutional.
That kind of affirmative support for legal recognition of gay couples is a real rarity at a national level, and absolutely so in a general election presidential or vice-presidential debate. He even addressed the marriage third rail, saying that "committed couples in a same-sex marriage are guaranteed the same constitutional benefits" as straight couples.
Biden was at his weakest claiming that the question of civil unions vs. marriage is a decision to "be left to faiths and people who practice their faiths the determination what you call it." Bullshit, of course, considering that civil marriage is something the government decides, and no one has proposed legislation that would decide for individual faiths whether to "marry" gay couples.
As for Sarah Palin, it's unclear why Biden and the post-debate pundits think she was agreeing with Obama-Biden on legal recognition for gay couples. As close as she came was this: "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." Not prohibiting is entirely different from guaranteeing, and she in fact echoed McCain's misleading rhetoric in this area.
What Palin was really saying is that gays won't be stripped of hospital visitation and the right to contract if John McCain is president. Gee thanks. And through all her protestations of tolerance, she says she doesn't want to go "round and round" about what exact rights and recognition same-sex couples deserve. I wonder how her "dear friends" who are gay feel about her unwillingness to take that time.
Responsibility for the muddle in Palin's answer (on this and other questions) faIls in part on moderator Gwen Ifill. Even with format limitations, I agree with Andrew Sullivan that Ifill was not effective, failing to follow up in a way that makes clear to voters the differences between the tickets.
For one thing, she failed to note that Alaska's benefits for gay couples -- limited to state government employees, by the way -- was mandated by the state's supreme court and Palin backed a constitutional amendment to overturn that ruling.
Here's the transcript excerpt from the New York Times:
IFILL: The next round of -- pardon me, the next round of questions starts with you, Senator Biden. Do you support, as they do in Alaska, granting same-sex benefits to couples?
BIDEN: Absolutely. Do I support granting same-sex benefits? Absolutely positively. Look, in 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.The fact of the matter is that 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 it. 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: Governor, would you support expanding that beyond Alaska to the rest of the nation?
PALIN: Well, not if it goes closer and closer towards redefining the traditional definition of marriage between one man and one woman. And unfortunately that's sometimes where those steps lead.
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.
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.
IFILL: Let's try to avoid nuance, Senator. Do you support gay marriage?
BIDEN: No. 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.
The bottom line though is, and I'm glad to hear the governor, I take her at her word, obviously, that she think 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.
IFILL: Is that what your said?
PALIN: 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.
IFILL: Wonderful. You agree. On that note, let's move to foreign policy.
UPDATE: The mainstream media coverage of gay rights is often confused and superficial, but the Reuters story just out about the vice presidential debate is particularly egregious. Even the headline -- "Biden, Palin agree on gay rights at debate" -- is mostly wrong. The only gay rights point they agreed on was opposing full civil marriage for same-sex couples.
Reuters reports: "In an otherwise contentious debate, both Biden and Palin said they did not support civil marriages for same-sex couples, but both backed a range of other legal protections." In fact, as noted above, Palin was saying only that a McCain White House would not work to prohibit gay couples from entering private contracts of visit each other in a hospital; which is not at all the same thing as guaranteeing those rights through government recognition of same-sex relationships.
"Such rights already exist in Alaska, where Palin serves as governor," Reuters goes on to mis-report. In fact, Alaska offers domestic partner benefits to the state workers, which means nothing to the vast majority of Alaskans who aren't government employees, and even for state workers, the D.P. benefits don't guarantee anything more than health and other financial benefits (which unlike those for hetero workers are taxable, by the way).
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