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Cheney gives tepid defense of marriage amendment

WASHINGTON (BP)–Vice President Dick Cheney’s tepid defense of a constitutional amendment protecting marriage during his Oct. 5 debate with Democrat John Edwards was certain to make supporters of such a measure glad George W. Bush, not Cheney, is president.

While adroitly defending the Bush administration’s position on the war in Iraq and other issues, Cheney provided unenthusiastic support for an amendment that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman. Bush has endorsed the amendment, which fell short in recent months in both houses of Congress.

Cheney’s comments came in the midst of the sole vice presidential debate this election campaign. The event, which was held in Cleveland, Ohio, stretched seven minutes beyond the 90 minutes scheduled and covered both foreign and domestic issues.

When asked by moderator Gwen Ifill of the Public Broadcasting System about the marriage amendment issue, Cheney reiterated a view expressed four years ago that people should be free “to choose any arrangement they want” but states should be the level of government at which relationships are authorized or not. “States have regulated marriage, if you will,” he said. “That would be my preference.”

Recently, however, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has directed the state legislature “to allow gay marriage,” Cheney said. “And the fact is that the president felt that it was important to make it clear that that’s the wrong way to go, as far as he’s concerned. Now, he sets policy for this administration, and I support the president.”

Edwards, a senator from North Carolina, said he and John Kerry, the Democrats’ presidential nominee, believe marriage is between a man and a woman but criticized the proposed amendment.

The amendment is “unnecessary” and is being used “to divide this country,” Edwards said. “There is absolutely no purpose … for this amendment. It’s nothing but a political tool…. ”

Homosexual couples should have “partnership benefits,” he said.

Edwards also commented on the relationship Cheney and his wife, Lynne, have with their daughter, Mary, who is a lesbian. He expressed respect for the Cheneys’ willingness to talk about her homosexuality and embrace her.

In response, Cheney thanked Edwards “for the kind words he said about my family and our daughter. I appreciate that very much.”

“That’s it?” Ifill asked Cheney

“That’s it,” he answered.

Southern Baptist public policy specialist Richard Land, an advocate for a constitutional amendment, said, “That was really about the best you could expect from Dick Cheney, given his position on the issue. I think if Dick Cheney were president, supporters of a marriage protection amendment would have reason for grave concern.

“Fortunately for such supporters, George W. Bush is the president, not Dick Cheney,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, “and there’s no question where George W. Bush stands on the issue.”

A federal amendment to protect marriage is required to respond to more than just the specter of same-sex “marriage,” Land said. He cited an Oct. 4 commentary in USA Today by George Washington University Law School professor Jonathan Turley calling for the Supreme Court to overturn laws against polygamy.

“We’re not just protecting marriage from same-sex assaults but [from] polygamy as well,” Land said. “If the Supreme Court were to rule that way, then polygamy would be legal in all 50 states. That is yet another reason why we must have a marriage protection amendment, which would take this issue out of the hands of a runaway court.”

Cheney had made similar comments on the same-sex marriage issue during an August campaign appearance. He expressed hope the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act might resolve the problem. The law, which enables states not to recognize homosexual “marriages” performed in another state, has been challenged in federal court. If struck down, then all 50 states could be forced to recognize same-sex “marriage.”

At the time, Land said he feared Cheney’s position “will be completely eroded and undone by the courts, because my prediction is that unless there is a [marriage protection amendment passed] within the next 18 months, a federal district court will begin the process of striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act.”

On other issues, Cheney appeared to provide a robust defense of the administration, especially regarding the strategy in Iraq.

Cheney said he would recommend the same course the administration took regarding Iraq, describing the former dictatorship as a “state sponsor of terror” the United States needed to deal with in its war on terrorists.

“What we did in Iraq was exactly the right thing to do,” Cheney said. “The world is far safer today because Saddam Hussein is in jail. His government is no longer in power.”

Edwards, however, accused Cheney of “not being straight with the American people.”

Some Republican senators have blamed the White House’s “incompetence” for the “mess in Iraq,” Edwards said. The administration “didn’t have a plan to win the peace,” he said. “They also didn’t put the alliances together to make this successful.”

Cheney criticized Kerry, a senator from Massachusetts, for a “record of 30 years of being on the wrong side of defense issues” and charged both Democrats with a lack of credibility on Iraq because of their “enormous inconsistencies” during the campaign.

Cheney also charged Edwards with having “one of the worst attendance records” in the Senate.

Edwards called Cheney’s charge a “complete distortion” of his record. He criticized the vice president for voting as a House of Representatives member against Head Start, the Department of Education and a holiday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

Other issues debated by the candidates included Israel, poverty, litigation reform and AIDS.

A transcript of the debate is available at the Internet site of the Commission on Presidential Debates (www.debates.org).

The remaining debates between Bush and Kerry are Oct. 8 in St. Louis and Oct. 13 in Tempe, Ariz.