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Vote Kerry in New Hampshire
We endorse John Kerry for the Democratic nomination. Plus, the Catholic Church has crossed the line in the secular debate over civil-marriage rights for same-sex couples. George W. Bush has selective approval for ‘activist’ judges.

JOHN KERRY returned to New Hampshire after his table-turning victory in the Iowa caucuses a new candidate: less cocky, more focused, more human. Kerry has learned and grown on the campaign trail, and that has re-energized his campaign, which, until the Iowa turnaround, appeared to be heading for the margins of the presidential race. Kerry is again a contender, and we hope that New Hampshire voters will maintain Kerry’s momentum by voting him to the top of the ticket in next week’s primary.

If Iowa offers any indication of what Democrats and independent progressive voters at large are looking for, it boils down to these two questions: who has the best shot of beating Bush? And who is best qualified to be president?

Kerry’s Iowa upset and his concurrent surge in New Hampshire are a tribute to his considerable and tenacious political skills. President Bush and his go-for-the-jugular strategist, Karl Rove, are formidable opponents. Whoever emerges as the party’s nominee will face the most focused, funded, and ruthless opponent of his career. To beat Bush, Democrats need a candidate of character, temperament, and standing. And while we salute all the Democratic candidates for their fidelity to their own visions of public service, we think that John Kerry has the broadest vision and the widest experience. And that is why he deserves New Hampshire’s vote.

How does Kerry stack up when compared to the other front-runners, Howard Dean and Wesley Clark? And how does he fare against the other Iowa "winner," John Edwards?

Dean deserves great credit for making the war with Iraq a central issue in this campaign, although we are among those who find his position more than a bit disingenuous, on close examination, when compared to that of many other Democrats. Dean also deserves great credit for mobilizing those opposed to the war and those who felt politically disenfranchised by the radical right-wing policies of Bush. But is candidate Dean, the man who essentially told a 65-year-old questioner in Iowa to sit down and shut up, ready for the task of personal leadership? Does Howard Dean, whose painfully overwrought performance on the night of the Iowa caucuses aroused comment and criticism, have the temperament to lead Democrats to victory not only in the White House, but in Congress and in state elections across the nation?

We think that when it comes to finding a national standard-bearer, John Kerry stands the tallest.

Wesley Clark, free from the competition of Iowa, has made strong inroads in New Hampshire. And his maverick candidacy has understandable appeal for voters who cherish their political independence. In an age when terrorists menace, when the bizarre regime in North Korea threatens to export nuclear technology, and when instability in the Middle East and Western Asia threatens peace and prosperity, Clark — a former general and NATO commander — certainly has a claim on voters’ imaginations. But for all that Clark has to offer, he lacks a solid grounding in domestic policy as well as big-league political experience.

John Edwards rightfully captured the imagination of Iowans with a positive and forward-looking campaign that is, frankly, refreshing in presidential politics. Obviously a man of immense talent and considerable charm, he doesn’t strike us as one who has been tempered and tested enough in political struggle, although he’ll show his true mettle in the weeks to come.

In his nearly 20 years in the Senate, John Kerry has actively dealt with issues of war and peace, terrorism and international malfeasance, social justice and human rights. He’s grappled with the best way to provide health care and education to all citizens. In his private life, he served in Vietnam, where he was three times wounded and twice decorated for bravery. Recognizing the magnitude of our national error, he then helped lead the fight to change policy there, along the way helping to raise two daughters. He understands the balance between the public and the private.

We think Kerry is the best of the field. We urge New Hampshire voters to give him their vote.

Hypocrisy on display

IT’S ALMOST NOT worth plumbing the reasons for the Catholic Church’s jihad against gay men and lesbians. When you’re talking about a spiritual organization that places greater significance on covering up priestly assaults on children than on stopping a decades-long epidemic of abuse, you’re not talking about an organization that roots its actions in moral values.

Still, here in Massachusetts, the Archdiocese of Boston wields considerable political power — note that no one who participated in the clergy-sex-abuse cover-up has been charged with a crime. Perhaps that’s why the state’s Catholic hierarchy believes it can get away with an outrageous campaign to lobby Catholic legislators and judges to support amending the state Constitution to ban the civil marriages of same-sex couples.

It began in earnest last May, when Massachusetts’s four bishops ordered every priest in the Commonwealth to ask parishioners to lobby state legislators for just such a state-constitutional amendment. It continued in October, when Archbishop Seán O’Malley spoke at the Massachusetts Family Institute, a gathering of right-wing fundamentalists — lending the conference credibility that it otherwise would not have had — and railed that recognizing same-sex marriages would do irreparable harm to the institution of marriage.

In November, O’Malley spoke out against the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling that the ban on civil marriages for same-sex couples was unconstitutional, and urged state legislators to thwart the ruling. A week after the historic ruling, all four Massachusetts bishops issued a joint statement opposing it that was either read or made available at every Mass. Again, lay Catholics were urged to contact their state representatives and senators to work for a constitutional amendment. Earlier this month, at the annual Red Mass — which is conducted for members of the legal profession — O’Malley called on Catholic jurists and attorneys to nullify the SJC’s ruling. And last week, the bishops announced that they would be sending out one million mailings to Catholics around the state explaining why they oppose civil-marriage rights for same-sex couples and urging Catholics — yet again — to contact their state representatives and senators to lobby for passage of an anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendment.

This clearly crosses the line between practicing theology and political activism. (Question: can we expect our creative and far-reaching Catholic attorney general, Tom Reilly — who, after all, managed to insert himself into the sale of the Boston Red Sox — to investigate the Church’s tax-exempt status in light of all this political activity?)

The Church’s high-profile assault on civil-marriage rights for same-sex couples gives the false impression that there is monolithic religious opposition to such unions. Nothing could be further from the truth. Last week, the Jewish Community Relations Council, which represents about 40 Jewish groups, announced that it supports gay couples in their legal battle to wed. The president of the Massachusetts conference of the United Church of Christ has also spoken out in favor of gay couples’ secular right to marry. Meanwhile, the Religious Coalition for the Freedom To Marry has 500 members doing the same.

Ultimately, the question of whether same-sex couples deserve the right to civil marriage is a secular one that does not affect religious institutions. The separation of church and state that this country was founded on must be fiercely guarded. The Catholic Church is engaging in a high-profile political lobbying campaign on a secular social issue. In at least one case, a parish priest published the name of a Catholic state legislator in the local church bulletin. The reason? To urge parishioners to pressure the state representative, Jeffrey Sanchez of Jamaica Plain, who is a member of the parish, into voting in favor of a constitutional amendment. This is inappropriate. To Sanchez’s credit, he has said he is going to vote against amending the state Constitution to ban same-sex marriages. "I have one of the highest concentrations of same-sex couples in my district. They are a vital part of our community in terms of the contributions they make to the community," he says, noting that the favored compromise, civil unions, simply don’t go far enough in offering the same benefits as marriage.

Legislators like Sanchez deserve our support. Others need to hear from their constituents that they believe in a strong separation of church and state. The Catholic Church has every right to marry only those couples it deems worthy of the sacrament and no others. The state, meanwhile, has every right to offer the civil protections of marriage on a fair and equal basis to heterosexual and homosexual couples alike.

You can thank Sanchez by calling his office at (617) 722-2575 or by e-mailing Rep.JeffreySanchez@hou.state.ma.us. Meanwhile, contact House Speaker Tom Finneran’s office at (617) 727-3600. Contact Senate president Robert Travaglini’s office at (617) 722-1500. More important, call your local representative and senator; you can find complete listings, with contact information, on the Web at www.state.ma.us/legis/legis.htm.

DURING HIS State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Bush declared his support for the "institution of marriage." Specifically, he made it clear that he believes marriage can be only the union of a man with a woman. In doing so, he referred to the SJC and criticized "activist judges" who are "redefining marriage by court order without regard for the will of the people and their elected representatives." It was an interesting thing to hear from the man who became president thanks to activist judges who disregarded the will of the people. The hypocrisy just doesn’t stop.

What do you think? Send an e-mail to letters[a]phx.com

Issue Date: January 23 - 29, 2004
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