During the last of three presidential debates on Wednesday evening, an unprecedented discussion on homosexuality and gay rights highlighted the two candidates' concurring and differing views on the issue. It started when George Bush was asked by moderator Bob Schieffer if he believes homosexuality is a choice. "You know, Bob, I don't know. I just don't know," Bush said. "I do know that we have a choice to make in America, and that is to treat people with tolerance and respect and dignity. It's important that we do that. I also know, in a free society, people, consenting adults, can live the way they want to live. And that's to be honored."
"But as we respect someone's rights and as we profess tolerance, we shouldn't change, or have to change, our basic views on the sanctity of marriage," Bush continued. "I believe in the sanctity of marriage. I think it's very important that we protect marriage as an institution between a man and a woman. I proposed a constitutional amendment. The reason I did so was because I was worried that activist judges are actually defining the definition of marriage. And the surest way to protect marriage between a man and woman is to amend the Constitution. It has also the benefit of allowing citizens to participate in the process. After all, when you amend the Constitution, state legislatures must participate in the ratification of the Constitution."
"I'm deeply concerned that judges are making those decisions, and not the citizenry of the United States," Bush continued. "You know, Congress passed a law called DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act--my opponent was against it--it basically protected states from the action of one state to another. It also defined marriage as between a man and a woman. But I'm concerned that that will get overturned, and if it gets overturned, then we'll end up with marriage being defined by courts. And I don't think that's in our nation's interest."
In his response, John Kerry talked about Vice President Dick Cheney's daughter Mary. "We're all God's children, Bob, and I think if you were to talk to Dick Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian, she would tell you that she's being who she was, she's being who she was born as. I think if you talk to anybody, it's not a choice. I've met people who've struggled with this for years, people who were in a marriage because they were living a sort of convention, and they struggled with it. And I've met wives who are supportive of their husbands, or vice versa, when they finally sort of broke out and allowed themselves to live who they were, who they felt God had made them. I think we have to respect that."
"The president and I share the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. I believe that," Kerry continued. "I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. But I also believe that because we are the United States of America, we're a country with a great, unbelievable Constitution, with rights that we afford people, that you can't discriminate in the workplace, you can't discriminate in the rights that you afford people. You can't disallow someone the right to visit their partner in a hospital. You have to allow people to transfer property, which is why I'm for partnership rights and so forth. Now, with respect to DOMA and the marriage laws, the states have always been able to manage those laws, and they're proving today, every state, that they can manage them adequately."
Kerry's comment about Mary Cheney drew criticism from a number of conservative sources, including Mary's mother, Lynne. During a debate-watching party in the Pittsburgh suburb of Coraopolis, Lynne Cheney accused the Massachusetts senator of pulling a "cheap and tawdry political trick" for invoking her daughter's sexuality. "Now, you know, I did have a chance to assess John Kerry once more, and now the only thing I could conclude: This is not a good man," she said. "Of course, I am speaking as a mom, and a pretty indignant mom." The vice president did not raise the matter in his remarks at the same party.
In his earlier debate with John Edwards, the vice president expressed no objection when the Democrat brought up his daughter Mary. Edwards expressed "respect for the fact that they're willing to talk about the fact that they have a gay daughter, the fact that they embrace her. It's a wonderful thing."
Cheney thanked his opponent for the "kind words he said about my family and our daughter. I appreciate that very much."
In response to Lynne Cheney's rebuke, Human Rights Campaign executive director Cheryl Jacques said, "President Bush missed one more chance to denounce discrimination last night, so it is bewildering that Lynne Cheney instead attacked Senator Kerry. Senator Kerry made clear that gay Americans should have the same basic rights, responsibilities, and protections as every other American. Vice President Cheney first discussed his own daughter in the context of this issue two months ago, and it is not surprising that Senator Kerry mentioned her experience as emblematic of millions of gay Americans. Senator Kerry was speaking to millions of American families who have hardworking, taxpaying gay friends and family members."
Shortly after the debate, the gay political group Log Cabin Republicans issued a statement on Kerry's comments. "Senator Kerry could have made his point about gay and lesbian Americans without mentioning the vice president's daughter," it read. "However, this shouldn't distract us from the fact that President Bush, Karl Rove, and other Republicans have been using gay and lesbian families as a political wedge issue in this campaign. Log Cabin Republicans have a message for both campaigns. For Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards, you do not need to talk about the vice president's daughter in order to discuss your positions on gay and lesbian issues. For President Bush and Karl Rove, you have a moral obligation to stop using gay and lesbian families as a political wedge issue. Our country and our party deserve better."