- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 15, 2003

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Most of the Democrats running for the White House said yesterday that homosexual couples should have the same legal rights as husbands and wives, but the leading candidates stopped short of supporting homosexual “marriage.”

The only three candidates who say federal law should recognize a right to same-sex “marriage” are the Rev. Al Sharpton, former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun and Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio.

Most of the others at a presidential forum sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign back civil unions for homosexuals.

The audience hissed when Sens. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and John Kerry of Massachusetts said marriage means a man and a woman.

“Marriage has a special status in our culture, our society, our history,” Mr. Lieberman said.

Vermont is the only state that has a civil-unions law giving homosexual couples the same full legal rights as married couples — a law signed by then-Gov. Howard Dean, one of the presidential contenders at the forum. Mr. Dean said civil unions give homosexuals legal rights, such as health benefits, inheritance, child custody and hospital visitation, in the absence of marriage.

Under tough questioning from moderator Sam Donaldson, Mr. Dean said the distinction of the word “marriage” is the hang-up in the states “because marriage has a long, long history as a religious institution.”

But Mr. Sharpton said simply granting civil unions is a form of discrimination against homosexuals, “like saying we’ll give blacks or whites or Latinos the rights to shack up, but not marry.”

Despite the differences over marriage, the Democratic presidential candidates agree with most of the policy positions of the Human Rights Campaign, including support for antidiscrimination laws, hate-crimes legislation, increased funding for HIV/AIDS research and treatment, and federal domestic-partnership benefits.

Elizabeth Birch, executive director of the Human Rights Campaign, said the group also would invite President Bush and other Republicans to future forums, which elicited laughter from the audience.

Several congressional Republicans, led by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, have called for a constitutional amendment on marriage. Mr. Bush has said “marriage is between a man and a woman,” but he has sidestepped the constitutional amendment issue.

Homosexual “marriages” are legal in Belgium and the Netherlands, and Canada’s Liberal government announced last month that it would enact similar legislation soon.

Mr. Dean and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri were asked whether they would recognize those marriages if the couples immigrated to the United States. Although Mr. Dean did not answer the question directly during an interview last month on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” he said he had come to the conclusion that they should be recognized. So did Mr. Gephardt.

He drew applause from the audience when he said he and his wife had joined Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

“I think the federal government should conform its laws as quickly as we can to recognize whatever relationship — civil relationship, civil union, gay marriage — whatever is accepted and put into law in states or foreign countries,” he said.

Mr. Gephardt told the audience about how he and his wife have embraced their daughter, Chrissy, when she announced a year and a half ago that she was leaving her husband because she was a lesbian.

Two of the nine presidential candidates did not appear at the forum, Sens. Bob Graham of Florida and John Edwards of North Carolina.


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