- The Washington Times - Monday, July 10, 2006

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has faced clear pressure on the same-sex “marriage” issue from rivals on both the left and right since New York’s highest court ruled last week that the state’s marriage laws — which do not recognize such unions — are constitutional.

The battle over marriage rights for homosexuals emerged as a factor in the 2004 election, when ballot issues in Ohio and other key states helped motivate conservative voters. And the role of the issue in Mrs. Clinton’s re-election campaign — and her expected 2008 presidential bid — could signal whether it will have a continuing impact in national politics.

In the wake of the New York ruling, Jonathan Tasini — an anti-Iraq war Democrat who plans to challenge Mrs. Clinton in the Sept. 12 Senate primary — said he was “appalled” by the decision. He said “many people in the gay community are very disappointed in” Mrs. Clinton for not supporting same-sex “marriage.”

“Discrimination is discrimination, and Hillary Clinton obviously does not get it,” he said.

Meanwhile, John Spencer, a former Yonkers mayor seeking the Republican nomination to challenge Mrs. Clinton, responded: “I trust Senator Clinton will join me in applauding this ruling.”

Mrs. Clinton did not comment initially, but when asked about it, her spokesman Philippe Reines said, “Senator Clinton supports full equality for people in committed relationships, including health insurance, life insurance and pensions, and hospital visitation — and believes we have to keep working to reach those goals.”

Mrs. Clinton opposed the Republican-sponsored marriage amendment to the Constitution, which failed to get the needed two-thirds majority in the Senate last month. She backs the federal Defense of Marriage Act — signed into law by her husband in 1996 — under which a state can’t be compelled to accept a same-sex “marriage” from another state.

The marriage issue has popped up in a few other races, including Georgia, where the camp of former Rep. Max Burns, a Republican, has accused Democratic opponent Rep. John Barrow of flip-flopping on it. But some observers say the issue lacks the national focus it had in 2004.

The New York State Court of Appeals ruling against homosexual “marriage” last week came the same day that the Georgia Supreme Court upheld that state’s marriage amendment banning such unions. And yesterday, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court — the same court that sparked a national debate by legalizing same-sex “marriage” in 2003 — ruled that a proposed state constitutional amendment to ban future same-sex “marriages” can be put on the ballot if the legislature approves it.

“With courts essentially upholding constitutional amendments passed by the people … threats to traditional marriage move lower on the scale of priorities,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres.

“It’s a way for Republicans and Democrats to both gin up their base,” Democratic strategist Bill Buck said. “But at the end of the day, I don’t think it’s an issue that’s at the top of most Americans’ minds.”

Still, some Republicans say the marriage debate could be reignited nationwide before November, especially if, as expected, Washington state’s supreme court soon rules in favor of legalizing same-sex “marriage.” And two top Democratic strategists, James Carville and Stan Greenberg, this week warned in a new memo that Republicans will “run hard” on the issue and urged Democrats to reassure undecided voters.

“That the Democrat believes marriage is between a man and a woman is among the strongest reassurance for older blue-collar voters, seniors and those in rural areas,” the memo read. “If this is what the candidate believes, it is important to say it.”

Twenty states have enacted amendments protecting traditional marriage, and at least five more states will vote on amendments in November.

“The public is clearly on the side of preserving and protecting traditional marriage,” said Republican consultant Keith Appell. If Democrats appear “wishy-washy” on this, “they can easily be painted as siding with liberal forces,” he said.

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