A few weeks ago I said that the Democratic presidential candidates would be forced to do some fancy dancing with respect to the same-sex marriage issue so as to navigate between the more radical wing of the party and its appeal to moderates. They have to support gay rights but not gay marriage, however one does that. One reading of Bush's proposed constitutional amendment is that it was a brilliant political tactic to squeeze the Democrats into a corner. If one assumes the amendment allows for state-by-state civil unions (and it's not clear it does), then those who say they oppose gay marriage but favor civil unions, and who also voted against the Defense of Marriage Act because they believed it was unconstitutional now have to explain why they oppose the FMA as a way to fix the constitution such that one state can't "impose" same-sex marriage on the rest. The Bushies are just smart enough to have thought this through. And if you want to see the results, and a very fancy dance indeed, here's John Kerry on the hotseat during the most recent presidential debate thanks to Ron Brownstein of the LA Times:
BROWNSTEIN: Let me ask you, Senator. I want to sort of burrow in a little bit and understand your views of exactly what the role of Washington is, Senator Kerry.
You say you oppose gay marriage. You also oppose the constitutional amendment to ban -- federal constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
Do you think Georgia and Ohio, or any other state, should have to recognize a gay marriage performed in California or Massachusetts? And if not, why did you vote against the Defense of Marriage Act, designed to prevent that, in 1996?
KERRY: I said very clearly -- I could not have been more clear on the floor of the United States Senate. My speech starts out expressing my personal opinion, that I do not believe -- you know, I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.
But notwithstanding that belief, there was no issue in front of the country when that was put before the United States Senate.
And I went to the floor of the Senate and said -- even though I was up for reelection, "I will not take part in gay bashing on the floor of the United States Senate. I will not allow the Senate to be used...
... for that kind of rhetoric."
BROWNSTEIN: But you also said in that statement...
KERRY: But let me just finish.
BROWNSTEIN: You also said in that statement that you believe the Defense of Marriage Act was fundamentally unconstitutional. And if the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, isn't President Bush right, that the only way to guarantee that no state has to recognize a gay marriage performed in any other state is a federal constitutional amendment?
KERRY: In fact, I think the interpretation -- I think, under the full faith and credit laws, that I was incorrect in that statement. I think, in fact, that no state has to recognize something that is against their public policy.
And for 200 years, we have left marriage up to the states. There is no showing whatsoever today that any state in the country, including my own -- which is now dealing with its own constitutional amendment -- is incapable of dealing with what they would like to do.
And I believe George Bush is doing this -- he's even reversed his own position. He's reversed Dick Cheney's position. He is doing this because he's in trouble. He's trying to reach out to his base. He's playing politics with the Constitution of the United States.
BROWNSTEIN: But let me just nail down one thing very quickly.
So are you saying that, now that gay marriage is on the table in a place like California or Massachusetts, that you would support the Defense of Marriage Act?
KERRY: No, because...
BROWNSTEIN: That it's not...
KERRY: ... the Defense of Marriage Act is the law of the land today.
KING: And you would support it today?
BROWNSTEIN: And you would leave it...
KERRY: ... no votes to take it back. And I think it's more important right now to pass the employment nondiscrimination act, hate crimes legislation, and begin to move us forward so we have on the books those laws that will allow us to protect people in this country.
If he loses the presidency, he can give dancing lessons.
And let it not be said I don't give props where props are due. Shortly afterward, here's Al Sharpton on the same issue:
SHARPTON: I think is not an issue any more of just marriage. This is an issue of human rights. And I think it is dangerous to give states the right to deal with human rights questions.
SHARPTON: That's how we ended up with slavery and segregation going forward a long time.
I, under no circumstances, believe we ought to give states rights to gay and lesbians' human rights. Whatever my personal feelings may be about gay and lesbian marriages, unless you are prepared to say gays and lesbians are not human beings, they should have the same constitutional right of any other human being. And I think that that should be...
(APPLAUSE)BROWNSTEIN: How would you effectuate that? How would you do that?
SHARPTON: I would say that they have the constitutional right to do whatever any...
KING: So you would have another amendment?
BROWNSTEIN: You would have a constitutional amendment?
SHARPTON: No, I wouldn't -- first of all, I think we've got to deal with a lot of constitutional amendments. If Bush wants to deal with it, let's get to ERA. Let's deal with a lot.
Of course he manages to avoid giving a concrete answer that demonstrated some knowledge of how Washington works (anyone see his answer to the question about the Fed a few debates ago?). Still, he's right on target with this one from my view.
More dancing to come, that's for sure.