Responses Reveal Critical Political Tactics

Biden, Palin Debate Gay Rights, But Find Few Differences


Senator Joe Biden and Governor Sarah Palin faced off in their first – and only – debate last night in St. Louis. And, considering it’s the politicians’ only debate, it’s pretty impressive that moderator Gwen Ifill injected gay rights into the discussion, asking, whether or not the candidates support granting benefits to same-sex couples.

Biden, a Democrat from Delaware, took the legislative route, saying he “absolutely” believes gay couples believe the same “constitutional” benefits awarded their straight counterparts…

…In an Obama-Biden administration, there will be absolutely no distinction from a constitutional standpoint or a legal standpoint between a same-sex and a heterosexual couple.

The fact of the matter is that under the Constitution we should be granted — same-sex couples should be able to have visitation rights in the hospitals, joint ownership of property, life insurance policies, et cetera. That’s only fair.

It’s what the Constitution calls for. And so we do support it. We do support making sure that committed couples in a same-sex marriage are guaranteed the same constitutional benefits as it relates to their property rights, their rights of visitation, their rights to insurance, their rights of ownership as heterosexual couples do.

Palin took a more roundabout approach, starting with a little self-defense of her “tolerance,” and saying she was going to be “straight up” about her thoughts on marriage: it’s meant to be between one man and one woman. Only then did she say that she and her running mate, John McCain, will do nothing to prohibit same-sex couples from having many of the same “straight” rights, before ending again with her assertion that she won’t touch marriage: “I’m being as straight up with Americans as I can in my non- support for anything but a traditional definition of marriage.” Here’s Palin’s exchange with Ifill:

IFILL: Governor, would you support expanding that beyond Alaska to the rest of the nation?

PALIN: Well, not if it goes closer and closer towards redefining the traditional definition of marriage between one man and one woman. And unfortunately that’s sometimes where those steps lead.

But I also want to clarify, if there’s any kind of suggestion at all from my answer that I would be anything but tolerant of adults in America choosing their partners, choosing relationships that they deem best for themselves, you know, I am tolerant and I have a very diverse family and group of friends and even within that group you would see some who may not agree with me on this issue, some very dear friends who don’t agree with me on this issue.

But in that tolerance also, no one would ever propose, not in a McCain-Palin administration, to do anything to prohibit, say, visitations in a hospital or contracts being signed, negotiated between parties.

But I will tell Americans straight up that I don’t support defining marriage as anything but between one man and one woman, and I think through nuances we can go round and round about what that actually means. But I’m being as straight up with Americans as I can in my non- support for anything but a traditional definition of marriage.

Not content with their answers, Ifill got more specific, asking, “Do you support gay marriage?” Neither candidate does, of course, nor do their running mates, and Biden did a good job “catching” that similarity between himself and Palin. Palin, however, attempted to distance herself from such an equation:

IFILL: Let’s try to avoid nuance, Senator. Do you support gay marriage?

BIDEN: No. Barack Obama nor I support redefining from a civil side what constitutes marriage. We do not support that. That is basically the decision to be able to be able to be left to faiths and people who practice their faiths the determination what you call it.

The bottom line though is, and I’m glad to hear the governor, I take her at her word, obviously, that she think there should be no civil rights distinction, none whatsoever, between a committed gay couple and a committed heterosexual couple. If that’s the case, we really don’t have a difference.

IFILL: Is that what your said?

PALIN: Your question to him was whether he supported gay marriage and my answer is the same as his and it is that I do not.

IFILL: Wonderful. You agree.

Essentially, neither campaign differs on where gays stand in the American landscape: away from the straight “mainstream.”

Politically speaking, however, Biden and Palin’s respective responses indicate a severe split between the parties. While the Democrats think in terms of concrete rights, the Republicans and their social conservative pals think of nothing but “traditional” definition. Palin’s performance proves that she’s sorely incapable of thinking outside the box, a trait exhibited by many of her party peers and, sadly, such a stance will bring nothing good for gay rights. Or, really, any Americans.

Here’s the video…