In the wrap-up TV news shows following Wednesday night's debate between Vice President Dick Cheney and North Carolina senator John Edwards, the pundits debated who "won," who laid out the best plans to clean up the conflict in Iraq, and whether the younger Edwards held his own with the older Cheney.
Most commentators overlooked what to most GLBT Americans was a notable exchange when the two men were forced to explain their stance regarding gay couples' legal right to marry.
Edwards and Cheney appeared to be getting more and more testy with each other until moderator Gwen Ifill asked Cheney: "I want to read something you said four years ago at this very setting: 'Freedom means freedom for everybody.' You said it again recently when you were asked about legalizing same-sex unions, and you used your family as an experience, your family experience as a context for your remarks. Can you describe, then, your administration's support for a constitutional ban on same-sex unions?"
Both men looked like they wanted to skip the subject entirely.
Cheney, whose daughter Mary is a lesbian and attended the debate with her partner, Heather Poe, spoke supportively about gay relationships and said that "people ought to be free to choose any arrangement they want." As to Bush's support for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, "He sets policy for this administration, and I support him."
Edwards said it is obvious that the Cheneys love their daughter and that "you can't have anything but respect" for them. "I believe marriage is between a man and a woman, and so does John Kerry," Edwards said. But, he added, "we should not use the Constitution to divide this country."
National gay rights groups including the Human Rights Campaign were not going to let Cheney off easy. "Tonight we saw the worst kind of flip-flop," said HRC executive director Cheryl Jacques. "Vice President Cheney said he supported his daughter, but then said he supported President Bush's effort to discriminate against her. John Edwards affirmed his and Senator Kerry's support for protections for same-sex couples and chastised President Bush for using the Constitution to divide the American people."
On Wednesday, both Cheney and Edwards headed for the battleground state of Florida and its 27
electoral votes. Cheney was appearing Wednesday in Tallahassee, Edwards in West Palm Beach. Both candidates got some encouragement from post-debate polls.