Former Vermont governor Howard Dean and U.S. senator John Kerry of Massachusetts sparred over the topic of gay rights during a debate among contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination in Columbia, S.C., on Saturday. Both Dean and Kerry are considered favorites for the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary, and both are strong supporters of gay and lesbian rights. But during the debate Kerry took issue with an article in the San Francisco Chronicle in which Dean had questioned how pro-gay Kerry really is.
"What Governor Dean said in San Francisco, not to my face, was that I didn't have the courage to stand up for gays in America," Kerry said. "Now, I led the fight--in 1985, I was the original author of the 1985 civil rights act. I testified before the Armed Services Committee to permit gays to serve in the military as they have with me, and in every war in this country. I have been a sponsor of the hate-crimes legislation, a sponsor of the--[inaudible]--employment discrimination legislation, and I am for civil unions. My position in fact is stronger than Governor Dean's."
Dean, who signed into law the first-ever civil unions bill in the nation when he was governor, said he had been misrepresented in the Chronicle story and that the paper ran a correction the following day. "I did not question Senator Kerry's record on gay rights," he said. "He has a very good one."