Democrats competing in New Hampshire field questions on civil unions

As New Hampshire primary voters began casting their picks for president on Tuesday, the Associated Press asked the Democratic candidates, "Do you think gay couples should have the right to enter civil unions that would qualify them for the usual federal benefits of marriage, such as Social Security survivor payments?" Here's how they responded:

Wesley Clark: "Yes. Equal rights under the law is one of the fundamental tenets of our democracy. Moreover, it is in the best interest of America to promote stable communities and families; this includes both heterosexual and same-sex families. Accordingly, I believe that same-sex couples should not be denied rights to pensions, health insurance, family medical leave, bereavement leave, hospital visitation, survivor benefits, and other basic legal protections that all families and children need that heterosexual couples enjoy."

Howard Dean: "As governor of Vermont, I was proud to sign the first law in the country granting same-gender couples the right to enter into civil unions. This law guarantees lesbian and gay couples the same basic legal rights that married couples enjoy: the right to inherit property, obtain child custody, visit a partner in the hospital, and control a partner's affairs upon death. As president, I will work to provide equal rights under federal law."

Sen. John Edwards: "I believe in the equal dignity of all Americans and support partnership benefits for gays and lesbians in long-term relationships. States should be free to decide if they want to create civil unions with benefits akin to marriage. If states establish these civil unions, then the federal government should respect their decision and offer benefits along these lines."

Sen. John Kerry: "I strongly support civil unions. I believe same-sex couples should be granted full and equal protection under the law, including access to health insurance, family medical leave, bereavement leave, hospital visitation, survivor benefits, and other basic legal protections that all families deserve. I have always believed in extending equal protections and equal rights to all Americans without regard to race, religion, creed, or sexual orientation."

Rep. Dennis Kucinich: "I endorse a comprehensive nondiscrimination policy, including nondiscrimination based on gender identity. My overriding philosophy is that same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples should be equal in the eyes of the law, including in marriage. All benefits and legal entitlements available to heterosexuals should be available to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered Americans, including equal treatment under Social Security survivor benefits, spousal benefits, and adoption rights. I support domestic-partner benefits for same-sex partners of employees, such as health insurance coverage and hospital visitation rights."

Sen. Joe Lieberman: "I have long believed that states have the right to adopt for themselves laws that allow same-sex unions. As a matter of basic fairness, we should recognize and support long-term committed gay and lesbian relationships through domestic-partnership laws--which is why I am an original cosponsor of legislation that would provide equal employment benefits to domestic partners of gay and lesbian federal employees. And as president, I will promptly review the more than 1,000 federal benefits, rights, and privileges to decide how this principle can be applied to couples in long-term committed relationships."

Al Sharpton: "Unequivocally, I think they should have the right. I think it's a human right. Unless people are prepared to say, 'You're not human beings,' they should be afforded what any other human being should be afforded. That's like you asking, 'Do [you] think blacks or Latinos or other members of the human family should have the right?'"

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