Al Gore’s MTV appearance generated little comment, but it actually made big news or should have as the vice president came out in favor of the closest thing to “gay marriage” that exists in this country: Vermont’s 6-month-old “civil union” legislation extending to homosexuals the legal rights and protections of traditional wedlock.
As the Media Research Center’s Tim Graham pointed out, however, practically all television and newspaper coverage of the event overlooked or failed to grasp the significance of Mr. Gore’s statement, which staked out new, previously untrodden political turf on the extreme left for the presidential candidate. “I favor legally recognized civic [sic] unions that have the legal protections of the kind that marriage confers,” said Mr. Gore. “The most literate statement I’ve seen on this is by the Vermont Supreme Court, that said it is unfair to discriminate against gays and lesbians in this whole area of the law, and it ordered the legislature to come out with some approach to equalize the legal protections, and that’s my position.”
The candidate has spoken. But not only has Mr. Gore endorsed civil union a position he failed to take during primary season, and one which his own party platform avoided he has at the same time demonstrated a markedly carefree attitude toward the type of high-handed judicial activism that led to Vermont’s civil union legislation in the first place. As it happened, the Vermont court’s obvious disdain for the democratic process turned out to be catching. The state legislature went on to rubber-stamp the court ruling, despite overwhelming opposition to it expressed in town meetings across the state. Gov. Howard Dean took the highly unusual step of signing the controversial legislation into law behind closed doors, eschewing the customary public signing ceremony.
In other words, the example of Vermont and civil union is not the most democratic model for the Democratic presidential candidate. Of course, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t evidence in Vermont of healthy democratic activity. It just happens to be taking place in the Republican Party. Since the passage of civil union legislation a bona-fide grassroots effort to make the government more responsive to its citizenry has taken hold. It is known as “Take Back Vermont,” and large, stark, black-and-white signs bearing the slogan now dot the red barns and green fields of the New England state. “Despite fierce opposition in the press,” wrote Stanley N. Kurtz recently in National Review, “the Take Back Vermont movement appears to be winning. In last [month’s] primary election, five of the Republican legislators who voted in support of civil unions half those targeted were defeated. And Ruth Dwyer, a strong civil unions opponent, handily won the Republican primary for governor.” It is beginning to look as if both the governor’s mansion and the legislature are actually within reach of Vermont Republicans.
What does all this mean for Al Gore? Not much either way, electorally speaking. But it could be that the position the vice president has staked out for himself regarding civil union will turn out to be on extremely shaky ground.