- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Yesterday’s Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling immediately boosts homosexual “marriage” to the top of the list of social issues in 2004’s elections, and Democrats are trying to find a middle ground that appeases both advocates and opponents of same-sex unions.

“I don’t know if it’s the top [issue], but it’ll be one of the top three,” said Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Constitution subcommittee, which has jurisdiction if leaders push for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex “marriages.”

“This raises a social issue where the Democrats definitely have the short end of the stick,” said Stuart Roy, spokesman for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican. “It’s no longer a hypothetical or theoretical idea where they’re claiming you’re trying to drive a wedge, but it’s a legitimate problem that has to be solved.”

Democrats were split on their reactions. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said he disagreed with the ruling, but the party’s presidential candidates tried to support the decision while saying they disagreed with the principle behind it.

“While I continue to oppose gay marriage, I believe that today’s decision calls on the Massachusetts state legislature to take action to ensure equal protection for gay couples. These protections are long overdue,” said Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and a presidential contender.

But Mr. Kerry’s response stood in contrast with his fellow Massachusetts Democrat, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who did not have any caveats about the decision’s breadth and called it “a welcome new milestone on the road to full civil rights for all our citizens.”

Two presidential candidates, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, both said they oppose homosexual “marriages,” but that states have the right to decide for themselves. Both said they would oppose a constitutional amendment on the issue.

Howard Dean, who as Vermont governor signed a law granting benefits of marriage to same-sex couples, said, “One way or another, the state should afford same-sex couples equal treatment under law in areas such as health insurance, hospital visitation and inheritance rights.”

Wesley Clark said he appreciated the decision.

“As president, I would support giving gays and lesbians the legal rights that married couples get,” he said, though he added that other states would have to decide whether to accept such “marriages” in Massachusetts.

Polls show most Americans oppose same-sex “marriages,” and conservative activists said they are primed for a fight.

“The pro-family movement has never been as worked up about anything as they are about this issue,” said Paul M. Weyrich, chairman of the Free Congress Foundation. “I’m a veteran of the original efforts on Roe v. Wade to get a constitutional amendment going way back to 1974, and I’ve seen any number of other battles like the [Equal Rights Amendment], but the movement is worked up like I’ve never seen it.”

All of the major Democratic candidates, apparently recognizing how damaging the issue could be, pleaded yesterday that it not be used politically.

“It is my hope that we don’t get sidetracked by the right wing into a debate over a phony constitutional amendment banning gay marriage,” said Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat. “I strongly oppose such an effort as purely political and unnecessarily divisive at the expense of those who already suffer from discrimination.”

Mr. Daschle said he expects political games on the issue, but he said Congress acted in 1996 by passing the Defense of Marriage Act, which settled the issue.

“I believe that the issue is as clear as can be,” he said. “We passed the Defense of Marriage Act by an overwhelming margin on a bipartisan basis. The law still stands today, and I think it would under any court scrutiny.”

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