Thursday, January 8, 2004

Same-sex civil unions are a political vulnerability for Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, because he signed the first state law allowing such unions as Vermont governor and continues to push the issue that most Americans oppose.

The front-runner for the Democratic nomination stirred the pot further this week by suggesting that God could not condemn homosexuality because he created homosexuals.

“Dean is especially vulnerable on this, given that he helped orchestrate the passage of [same-sex] civil unions in Vermont and ushered in one of the most radical pro-homosexual governments seen in any state,” said Robert Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute, an affiliate of Concerned Women for America.

“This is out of step with the American people, and [Mr. Dean] will be unable to finesse this, especially if the GOP is smart enough and moral enough to stand firm against counterfeit marriage,” he said.

Polls have found that the majority of Americans oppose legalizing same-sex “marriage” or civil unions, which affords same-sex couples essentially the same benefits as married couples.

In an interview reported by The Washington Post yesterday, Mr. Dean said his decision to sign the Vermont legislation legalizing civil unions for homosexuals was partly because of his Christian views.

“The overwhelming evidence is that there is very significant, substantial genetic component” to homosexuality, Mr. Dean said. “From a religious point of view, if God had thought homosexuality is a sin, he would not have created gay people.”

Mr. Knight called Mr. Dean’s statements “explosive” and said they show his “profoundly twisted interpretation of God’s intent and purposes.”

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said Mr. Dean is “having enough difficulty on taxes and Iraq, he should stay away from theology.”

Diane Knipper, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, said talking about homosexuality defeats the purpose of Mr. Dean’s recent flurry of efforts to highlight his religious beliefs.

Such appeals to Christians would be important in next week’s primary in the District, where the black church plays a major role in Democratic politics. For example, the District’s mayoral office has a religious and faith adviser.

“If Howard Dean wants to talk about religion with most Christian Americans, and in fact most religious believers, then homosexual unions is not the issue he wants to talk about,” she said. “He is espousing issues that only a tiny minority of the church support, and he’d be better off not talking about religion.”

She said Mr. Dean gets himself in trouble when he tries to make such a theological argument, because most churchgoers attend churches that teach that homosexuality, or at least homosexual behavior, is a personal choice.

“If you want to use religion to connect with people then it needs to be one people respect or recognize or identify with, and Mr. Dean’s theological views only represent a tiny minority of American Christians,” she said.

Republicans say all of the Democratic presidential candidates are out of step with America on this issue because they all support allowing same-sex civil unions if a state so chooses, and three of them go further and support legalizing homosexual “marriage.”

Although Mr. Dean isn’t one of the three, Republican National Committee spokeswoman Christine Iverson said, “We feel Dean and the other candidates do not have a position that is in sync with where the majority of Americans are.”

According to a CBS News/New York Times poll in mid-December, 54 percent oppose allowing same-sex civil unions and 61 percent oppose allowing homosexual “marriage.” The poll of about 1,000 adults found that 55 percent favor a constitutional amendment stating that marriage is only between a man and a woman, while 40 percent oppose that.

Although Mr. Dean does not support legalizing same-sex “marriage,” Mr. Perkins said Mr. Dean is more “aggressive” on homosexual issues than the other Democratic presidential candidates, adding that, “much of his fund raising comes from the homosexual community” and that he has sought the support of gay groups much more than the other Democrats.

But Simon Rosenberg, president of the New Democrat Network, warned that the issue “could really backfire” on Republicans in 2004 if they make it too much of an issue, because homosexual “marriage” and civil unions are not on the top agenda of most Americans.

“It is dangerous to underestimate the fundamental tolerance of the American people,” he said, adding that most “Americans fundamentally are tolerant, private people.”

He also said much of how the issue will play out in the presidential race, depends not on Mr. Dean, but on whether President Bush ultimately supports a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

“The Republican Party is the one that’s going to be divided on this,” he said, adding that if Mr. Bush “takes too hard a position on this,” it will undermine his goal of being a “compassionate conservative” leader.

Mr. Bush has said if necessary, he would support a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

But Mr. Knight said if Republicans fail to make this a major issue in the presidential race with whomever secures the Democratic nomination, “they’re throwing away their ace card. It’s an issue that instantly distinguishes them from the Democrats, and they’re not using it.”

Asked about Mr. Dean’s remarks yesterday, the Rev. Al Sharpton of New York, also running for the presidency, said he didn’t know “of any of us who have that direct dialogue with God.”

During a TV interview with columnist Armstrong Williams, Mr. Sharpton added, though, that he agreed with Mr. Dean’s position in support of homosexual civil unions.

Mr. Sharpton said he supports homosexual “marriage.”

“I think people have a right to make those decisions even if I don’t agree with them,” he said.

• Brian DeBose and Charles Hurt contributed to this report.

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