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Kerry promises married gay couples complete federal rights

Kerry promises married gay couples complete federal rights

Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry (D-Mass.), under fire from gay Democrats for opposing same-sex marriage, has promised that if elected president, he would grant state-sanctioned married gay couples the same federal rights and benefits married straight couples enjoy, according to several people who met with Kerry in San Francisco last Friday, reports The Washington Post. Kerry, who says he personally opposes same-sex marriage, said he would, however, bestow all federal marriage benefits--such as the right to file joint income taxes and collect survivor benefits--on same-sex couples who unite legally in civil unions, domestic partnerships, and even marriage under their state laws. The number of federal benefits for married couples was recently adjusted by the U.S. Government Accounting Office from 1,049 to 1,138. Kerry made the comments at a gay fund-raiser in San Francisco's Nob Hill neighborhood, the Post reports. Until the event, he had talked mostly in general terms of providing federal benefits and the "same basic rights" to same-sex couples. "It's the first time in history that a presidential candidate has ever supported full and equal protection for same-sex couples," said state representative Mark Leno, a San Francisco Democrat and an early Kerry supporter who attended Friday's fund-raiser and queried Kerry about his position. "He told me that he would grant all 1,049 [now 1,138] federal rights to same-sex couples in whatever legal union their states recognize," said Leno, who has sponsored a bill that would legalize gay marriage in California. Kerry spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter did not dispute Leno's characterization of the meeting but said Kerry was responding to very specific yes or no questions put to him. She portrayed his answer as in keeping with his general support for "providing federal benefits for state-recognized same-sex couples.... He has not reviewed the over thousand benefits but stands by his commitment to equality." Kerry is carefully trying to reach a middle ground in one of the most explosive political, cultural, and legal debates of 2004, his advisers say. He has been inundated with complaints from gays and lesbians since he told The Boston Globe last week that he supports a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in Massachusetts as long as it contains a provision for civil unions. His home state is set to begin performing gay weddings May 17. Some Democrats were threatening to pull back on financial support. "There were a lot of people who were very upset at the way his position was described," Jeff Soukup, who along with his partner has hosted several fund-raisers for Kerry, told the Post. "And there were a lot of people who had been planning to attend the fund-raiser who said they would not attend until Kerry clarified his position." Kerry might have a hard time upholding his promise. Granting federal rights to same-sex couples contradicts a major provision of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, Tobias Wolff, a professor at the Stanford University School of Law and an expert on gay legal issues, told the Post. The provisions state that federal benefits for married people may not apply to same-sex couples and that judgments stemming from a same-sex union are not portable from state to state. While marriage and civil unions are not considered a "judgment" in legal terms, divorce, child support, and probate are judgments. That means, Wolff said, that a legal mess could ensue if a partner who is dissatisfied with the litigated decision regarding, say, divorce, in one state decided to litigate in another state.

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