If you thought Sen. John McCain's position on gay issues couldn't get any murkier, hold on - it just went from murky to downright muddy. After McCain told The New York Times in no uncertain terms last weekend that he opposes allowing gay couples to adopt children, his campaign lurched back to the center Tuesday with a clarifying statement saying that "he recognizes that there are many abandoned children who have yet to find homes" and he "believes that in those situations that caring parental figures are better for the child than the alternative."
That strikes a slightly different tenor on gay adoption than the Arizona senator's original statement to the Times last Friday: "I think we've proven that both parents are important in the success of a family so, no, I don't believe in gay adoption."
Today's statement from McCain's director of communications, Jill Hazelbaker, went on to parallel his view on gay adoption with his approach to same-sex marriage as a state's right to determine. "McCain could have been clearer in the interview in stating that his position on gay adoption is that it is a state issue, just as he made it clear in the interview that marriage is a state issue. He was not endorsing any federal legislation," Hazelbaker said in the statement.
OK, so apparently we're revisiting gay marriage too. True: the campaign's original statement following the California supreme court's pro-marriage decision indicated that McCain supported the voters' "right" to decide the matter. But several weeks ago, a statement from the McCain campaign surfaced on ProtectMarriage.com, saying, "I support the efforts of the people of California to recognize marriage as a unique institution between a man and a woman." That revelation was followed by a five-day period of silence from the campaign before spokespeople confirmed that it did indeed accurately represent Sen. McCain's support for the marriage amendment headed for California's ballot in November. However, in his weekend interview with the Times, McCain went back to stressing the voters' right to decide, whatever the outcome might be. "I respect the right of the states to make those decisions," he said.
McCain's jags on LGBT issues have come amid what many pundits have regarded as a chaotic time in his campaign and its messaging. Beyond a staffing shakeup that put Rovean protege Steve Schmidt in charge of the campaign, McCain's policy statements have lurched from the moderate inspired support for enhanced environmental policies to a crusty conservative jab at the Supreme Court decision giving suspected terrorists the right to challenge their detention in federal courts. "The United States Supreme Court rendered a decision yesterday that I think is one of the worst decisions in history," McCain said.
But overall, Democratic strategist Steve McMahon thinks McCain's campaign is moving him slowly, if not consistently, to more moderate positions in order to please independent voters.
"Apparently, Senator McCain didn't get the memo that he doesn't need to keep running to the right to please the Republican base," McMahon said of McCain's original comment rejecting gay adoption. "He ran far right to get the nomination and now his campaign is obviously trying to move John McCain back to the middle."
Though McCain briefly indicated support for the California marriage amendment, he has consistently opposed a federal amendment to the Constitution, which jibes with the campaign's federalist approach voiced today on gay adoption bans. It's unclear whether he will support statewide efforts to ban gay adoption like the one being waged in Arkansas. His campaign did not return phone calls for this article.
Patrick Sammon, president of the Log Cabin Republicans declined to conjecture about the zigzagging nature of McCain's LGBT policies but offered, "We certainly respect that there are hundreds of thousands of gay and lesbian couples who are excellent parents making sacrifices every day to help their kids and raise them in a loving nurturing environment, and we're certainly pleased that Senator McCain's campaign clarified its position on this important issue."
One thing is clear: it's hard to keep up with McCain's statements, even for professional queer organizations like the Human Rights Campaign. About an hour after the McCain camp's "clarifying" statement started to circulate today, HRC issued a rebuke of his comments from the weekend, noting "there are more than one half a million children in the U.S. foster care system, with at least 100,000 awaiting adoption by loving, permanent families." But you know what they say: That's so last week.