McCain, Obama Differ as They Reject Homosexual Marriage

November 4, 2008

gay-marriage-4.jpgSeveral gay friends and wealthy gay donors to Senator Barack Obama have asked him over the years why, as a matter of logic and fairness, he opposes same-sex marriage even though he has condemned old miscegenation laws that would have barred his black father from marrying his white mother.

The difference, Mr. Obama has told them, is religion.

As a
Christian — he is a member of the United Church of Christ — Mr. Obama
believes that marriage is a sacred union, a blessing from God, and one
that is intended for a man and a woman exclusively, according to these
supporters and Obama campaign advisers. While he does not favor laws
that ban same-sex marriage, and has said he is “open to the
possibility” that his views may be “misguided,” he does not support it
and is not inclined to fight for it, his advisers say.

Senator John McCain
also opposes same-sex marriage, but unlike Mr. Obama’s, his position is
influenced by generational and cultural experiences rather than a
religious conviction, McCain advisers say.

But Mr. McCain,
reflecting his strongly held views on federalism, has also broken with
many Republican senators and joined Mr. Obama and most Democrats to
oppose amending the United States Constitution to ban same-sex
marriage, arguing that the issue should be left to the states to decide.

candidates have very different positions, though, when it comes to the
state level. Mr. Obama opposes amending state constitutions to define
marriage as a heterosexual institution, describing such proposals as
discriminatory. Mr. McCain, however, has been active in such efforts:
On the most expensive and heated battle to ban same-sex marriage this
year, a proposed constitutional amendment in California
known as Proposition 8, he has endorsed the measure and sharply
criticized a State Supreme Court ruling that granted same-sex couples
the right to marry.

Mr. Obama has spoken out against Proposition
8, and opponents of the measure hope that a huge Democratic turnout in
California on Nov. 4 — and, possibly, depressed turnout among
conservatives — will help defeat it. At the same time, some Democrats
say that if many socially conservative blacks and Hispanics turn out to
support Mr. Obama, but oppose same-sex marriage, the amendment’s
chances for passage could improve.

While same-sex marriage is not
expected to play a consequential role in the elections on Tuesday —
unlike in 2004, when a proposed ban in Ohio was widely seen as hurting
the Democratic presidential nominee that year, Senator John Kerry
— passions remain high for voters on both sides. Some gay Democrats had
hoped, in particular, that Mr. Obama would extend his message of unity
and tolerance to their fight on the issue.

“Barack is an
intellectual guy, and I know he has been thinking through his position
on gay marriage, and what is fair for all people,” said Michael Bauer,
an openly gay fund-raiser for Mr. Obama and an adviser to his campaign
on gay issues. “But he is just not there with us on this issue.”

gay allies of Mr. Obama thought, during a televised Democratic forum in
Los Angeles in August 2007, that he might come out in favor of same-sex
marriage, after he was asked if his position supporting civil unions
but not same-sex marriage was tantamount to “separate but equal.”

when my parents got married in 1961, it would have been illegal for
them to be married in a number of states in the South,” Mr. Obama said.
“So, obviously, this is something that I understand intimately. It’s
something that I care about.”

At that point, he veered onto
legal rights, saying that — both in 1961 and today — it was more
important to fight for nondiscrimination laws and employment
protections than for marriage.

Mr. Obama has spoken only
occasionally about his religious beliefs influencing his views on
same-sex marriage, and he has indicated that he is wary of linking his
religion to policy decisions.

“I’m a Christian,” Mr. Obama said
on a radio program in his 2004 race for Senate. “And so, although I try
not to have my religious beliefs dominate or determine my political
views on this issue, I do believe that tradition, and my religious
beliefs say that marriage is something sanctified between a man and a

In one of his books, “The Audacity of Hope,” however,
Mr. Obama describes a conversation with a lesbian supporter who became
upset when he cited his religious views to explain his opposition.

felt that by bringing religion into the equation, I was suggesting that
she, and others like her, were somehow bad people,” he wrote. “I felt
bad, and told her so in a return call. As I spoke to her, I was
reminded that no matter how much Christians who oppose homosexuality
may claim that they hate the sin but love the sinner, such a judgment
inflicts pain on good people.”

“And I was reminded,” Mr. Obama added, “that it is my obligation, not
only as an elected official in a pluralistic society but also as a
Christian, to remain open to the possibility that my unwillingness to
support gay marriage is misguided, just as I cannot claim infallibility
in my support of abortion rights.”

Advisers to Mr. McCain, meanwhile, say that he is not especially fervent on the issue — he simply
believes that marriage has always been between a man and a woman, and
that this is a culturally accepted norm that he sees no need to

Mr. McCain discussed his views with the openly gay
entertainer Ellen DeGeneres in an appearance on her television talk
show in May.

The California Supreme Court had just cleared the
way for same-sex marriage, and Ms. DeGeneres had announced on her
program that she planned to marry her longtime girlfriend. “We are all
the same people, all of us — you’re no different than I am,” Ms.
DeGeneres told Mr. McCain as they sat next to each other in plush
chairs. “Our love is the same.”

Mr. McCain called her comments
“very eloquent” and added: “We just have a disagreement. And I, along
with many, many others, wish you every happiness.”

Ms. DeGeneres said: “So, you’ll walk me down the aisle? Is that what you’re saying?”

Mr. McCain replied, “Touché.”

a matter of policy, Mr. McCain approaches same-sex marriage from his
strong federalist viewpoint. He was one of seven Republican senators to
vote in June 2006 against a proposed federal amendment banning such
marriages, saying it was an issue for the states. That same year, he
also worked to try to amend Arizona’s Constitution to define marriage
as between a man and a woman. That amendment failed — the first
rejection in 28 statewide votes on similar measures since 1998; a new
effort is on the ballot next week in Arizona, and Mr. McCain has
endorsed it.

“He is a true federalist, seeing no need for the federal government to dictate laws on who can marry who,” said Jim Kolbe, a former Republican congressman from Arizona and a friend of Mr. McCain’s, and who is openly gay.

a personal matter, I think this is entirely a generational and cultural
thing for him — he just doesn’t see a need for gay marriage,” Mr. Kolbe
said. “I just think gay marriage is not part of the world and
background that he comes from.”

Source: New York Times

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