Thursday, February 26, 2004

LOS ANGELES — Democratic hopeful John Edwards said in a debate last night that he opposes the Defense of Marriage Act, which allows the federal government and other states to ignore homosexual “marriages” granted by states.

“This is an issue that ought to be decided in the states and I think the federal government should honor whatever decision is made by the states,” said Mr. Edwards, joining with 14 Democrats in the Senate, including John Kerry of Massachusetts, who opposed the act when it passed in 1996.

Mr. Edwards won his Senate seat from North Carolina in 1998.

Last night’s debate, sponsored by the Los Angeles Times and CNN, also had Mr. Edwards and front-runner Mr. Kerry defending themselves over their votes in support of going to war in Iraq, which has fallen into deep disfavor among Democratic activists.

The two men, who both say they oppose homosexual “marriage,” also criticized President Bush for requesting a constitutional amendment against such unions.

Mr. Kerry said the president was “trying to divide America” and “create a cultural war and seek the lowest common denominator.”

“This president is talking … about amending the Constitution for a problem that does not exist,” Mr. Edwards said.

The forum — the first of two final debates before Tuesday’s spree of 11 nomination contests across the country — also included discussion of foreign trade and the violence in Haiti.

Mr. Edwards said earlier in a two-day swing through California that he thinks “marriage” between two persons of the same sex is “wrong” but has refused to elaborate on why he thinks it’s wrong. He also declined to explain the difference in his mind between homosexual “marriage” and “civil unions,” which he supports.

Asked to specify why — whether on moral, religious or political grounds — he opposes homosexual “marriage,” Mr. Edwards snapped testily, “I’m finished with that question.”

Pressed later on the issue by a local reporter, Mr. Edwards refused to acknowledge the shouted questions and hustled off the stage where he had been briefing reporters.

A constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman is a concept that gathered new support after San Francisco’s mayor dismissed California law and began issuing “marriage” licenses to same-sex couples.

The issue puts Democrats in an awkward position. In California, for instance, more people are opposed to homosexual “marriage” than are for it, according to a survey of registered California voters conducted by Field Poll.

Mr. Edwards and Mr. Kerry even before last night’s debate had accused Mr. Bush of raising the issue in an election year to force his opponents to risk either offending Democratic voters, who include many homosexual activists, or offending the broader public, which polls show overwhelmingly opposes homosexual “marriage.”

Mr. Bush said it was pro-homosexual public officials and activists who have forced the issue, leaving him no alternative but to announce his support of the amendment.

Mr. Edwards often speaks passionately about the importance of the civil rights movement and the strides made in the South by the federal government against segregation, which many backed or didn’t oppose on the grounds of states’ rights. But Mr. Edwards said the issue of homosexual “marriage” should be a decision left for states to decide.

Asked to clarify why the issue should be decided by the same state governments that delayed civil rights, Mr. Edwards replied, “Because I think it’s an issue that should be decided by the states.”

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