- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 26, 2003


Supporters of Howard Dean's presidential campaign will be celebrating today's third anniversary of his signing of the nation's only law giving homosexual partners the same legal rights as married couples.

The loudest cheering, though, might come from Republicans.

Mr. Dean, a former Vermont governor, is touting his signing of the civil unions law. His campaign is helping organize more than 50 fund-raisers at the homes of supporters across the country today to celebrate the anniversary, with Mr. Dean making conference calls to the guests.

Several of Mr. Dean's rivals for the Democratic nomination also are speaking out in support of increased rights and acceptance of homosexuals. But many Republicans say strong support for homosexuals will backfire in the general election and help President Bush win more conservative and southern states.

Richard White, a Republican state senator from Mississippi, said any candidate talking about homosexual rights might as well not even visit his state.

"The people down here, they are not going to put up with that kind of stuff," Mr. White said. "We're not prepared for all that in Mississippi or anywhere else in the southern states."

The public has mixed feelings about homosexual acts, recent polls suggest. While a majority feels such acts should not be illegal, a majority does feel that such acts are immoral.

When Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, compared homosexuality to bigamy, polygamy, incest and adultery in an interview with the Associated Press this week, Mr. Bush remained silent while the Democratic presidential candidates roundly denounced the remarks.

Declaring support for homosexual rights draws applause from liberal audiences along the Democratic primary campaign circuit. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, arguably the most moderate of the field, sought to appeal to members of the liberal Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism by playing up his support of a bill that would extend benefits to partners of homosexual federal employees.

Three other candidates Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri and Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio were co-sponsors of the legislation last year.

But Mr. Dean has the strongest homosexual rights credentials, based on his signing of the civil unions law.

"I feel like most people, if they know anything about him, that's what they know," said 26-year-old Josh Kruskol, who is having 30 to 50 friends over tonight for wine, dessert and a pitch to support the Dean campaign.

Mr. Dean opposes the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that allows homosexuals to serve in the military as long as they keep their sexual orientation private and do not engage in homosexual acts. He said that if elected president, he would approach Congress and the Joint Chiefs of Staff about changing the policy.

He also said he would recognize civil unions at the federal level, extending rights to homosexual couples under tax law, immigration law and other federal policies.

"It seems to me the fair thing to do, and I think most Americans are fair-minded," Mr. Dean said. "So I can't wait to engage the Republicans on that issue."

The opposition research on Mr. Dean posted on the Republican National Committee's Web site leads off by declaring that he is "ultraliberal on civil unions." And some Democrats say Mr. Dean will hurt himself in the South with his outspoken support for homosexual rights. Darryl Tattrie, chief financial officer of the Kentucky Democratic Party, said he personally supports same-sex civil unions, but he doesn't think it would be a winning issue in his state.

"I don't think voters in Kentucky would be for that," he said. "It's the way folks are raised."

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