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Kerry disagrees with SJC


WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 4, 2004 -- After six hours of deliberation, John Kerry’s campaign released a brief statement on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling that civil unions are not an acceptable alternative to same-sex civil marriages under state law. The statement from Kerry, now widely considered the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, read as follows:

"I believe and have fought for the principle that we should protect the fundamental rights of gay and lesbian couples--from inheritance to health benefits. I believe that the right answer is civil unions. I oppose gay marriage and disagree with the Massachusetts Court’s decision."

At 45 words--including conjunctions--Kerry’s statement was composed at the remarkably sluggish pace of 15 words per hour. (And he wasn’t even campaigning today.) This brevity, combined with the clipped tone of Kerry’s comments, is likely to disappoint many gay marriage advocates who consider today’s SJC ruling as another major victory.

Consider, in contrast, the remarks of Roger Salazar, John Edwards’ national spokesman: "Edwards has often said that this is obviously an issue the nation as a whole is grappling with. He believes in domestic partnership benefits and treating people equally, but as far as civil unions or gay marriage, he believes it’s up to each state to decide upon that for themselves."

If you’re having trouble reading between the lines, Kerry is opposed to the idea of gay marriage and Edwards suggests he might not be, but his suggestion that it be done on a state-by-state basis carries with it more than a whiff of states' rights.

Kerry is consistent. He’s on the record as a supporter of civil unions, but has never voiced support for same-sex marriages. He was also the first candidate to offer a formal statement on the SJC ruling. True, this was a concession to geography; Kerry may have no causal relationship to anything the SJC does, but he’s a Massachusetts senator and the advent of gay marriages in the Bay State come May is sure to be used against him by George W. Bush et al. But at least he didn’t ignore the issue, or wait until the evening news cycle was complete to issue a stealth statement.

And the almost defiant tone of Kerry’s closing sentence? In the end, he probably made the right decision, from a strategic point of view. If Kerry had softened his criticism with the slightest caveat or disclaimer--let alone indicated an openness to the basic concept of civil marriage for gays and lesbians--you can bet it would have found its way into the GOP playbook. As a southern senator, Edwards has the luxury of being broad-minded on this issue. Coming from Boston, Kerry isn’t so fortunate.

Issue Date: February 4, 2004
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