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Final debate: Bush, Kerry differ over religion, homosexuality, const. marriage amendment

WASHINGTON (BP)–Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry denied homosexuality is a choice, while President Bush said he was uncertain if it was a choice during the final debate before the Nov. 2 election.

Kerry and Bush addressed questions on domestic issues during the 90-minute debate Oct. 13 at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz., covering such issues as their religious faith, domestic security, the shortage of flu vaccine, job outsourcing, health insurance, Social Security, immigration and assault weapons bans.

About 30 minutes into the debate, moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS News said he wanted to find out the basis for both men’s opposition to same-sex “marriage.” Schieffer asked, “Do you believe homosexuality is a choice?”

Responding first, Bush said, “I don’t know. I just don’t know. I do know that we have a choice to make in America and that is to treat people with tolerance and respect and dignity. It’s important that we do that.

“And I also know in a free society people, consenting adults, can live the way they want to live. And that’s to be honored,” he said.

“But as we respect someone’s rights, and as we profess tolerance, we shouldn’t change — or have to change — our basic views on the sanctity of marriage. I believe in the sanctity of marriage. I think it’s very important that we protect marriage as an institution between a man and a woman.”

Bush said he endorsed a constitutional amendment to limit marriage to a man and a woman because he “was worried that activist judges are actually defining the definition of marriage. … I’m deeply concerned that judges are making those decisions and not the citizenry of the United States.”

He said he was concerned a court would overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 federal law that protects states from having to recognize homosexual “marriages” performed in other states.

“And if it gets overturned, then we’ll end up with marriage being defined by courts, and I don’t think that’s in our nation’s best interests,” Bush said.

Kerry began his response by saying, “We’re all God’s children. … And I think if you were to talk to [Vice President] Dick Cheney’s daughter, who is a lesbian, she would tell you that she’s being who she was, she’s being who she was born as.

“I think if you talk to anybody [who is homosexual], it’s not choice,” he said. “I’ve met people who struggled with this for years, people who were in a marriage because they were living a sort of convention, and they struggled with it. And I’ve met wives who are supportive of their husbands or vice versa when they finally sort of broke out and allowed themselves to live who they were, who they felt God had made them. I think we have to respect that.”

Kerry said he believes that marriage is only between a man and a woman. After endorsing marriage-like benefits for homosexual couples, Kerry reaffirmed his position that same-sex “marriage” should be handled by the states.

“[T]he states have always been able to manage those laws,” he said. “And they’re proving today, every state, that they can manage them adequately.”

Kerry opposes a constitutional amendment that would protect the traditional definition of marriage and he voted against the Defense of Marriage Act when it passed the Senate.

Southern Baptist public-policy specialist Richard Land described Bush’s response on homosexuality and same-sex “marriage” as the “high point of the debate for the president.”

“He came across as a caring person who doesn’t bear ill will or hostility to anyone but who strongly supports our society reaffirming and buttressing marriage as only between a man and a woman,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

The ensuing question to Kerry concerned a report that some Catholic archbishops are saying that a Catholic vote for Kerry would be a sin because he supports abortion rights and embryonic stem cell research.

Kerry said he respected their views but disagreed with them.

“I believe that I can’t legislate or transfer to another American citizen my article of faith,” Kerry said. “What is an article of faith for me is not something that I can legislate on somebody who doesn’t share that article of faith.”

He went on to say his “faith affects everything I do.” Citing the New Testament book of James, Kerry said, “There’s a great passage of the Bible that says, ‘What does it mean, my brother, to say you have faith if there are no deeds? Faith without works is dead.’

“[E]verything you do in public life has to be guided by your faith, affected by your faith, but without transferring it in any official way to other people,” he said.

While Kerry denied his faith should affect his public policy position on abortion, he said it is because of his faith that he fights to end poverty, protect the environment, and establish equality and justice.

“His whole answer cements the label of Senator Flip-flop,” Land said. “The only thing consistent in that whole response was its glaring inconsistency.

“I thought the low point of the debate for Kerry was his reiteration of his argument that he’s a devout Catholic but he doesn’t think he has a right to allow his Catholic belief on life at conception to influence his public policy stance, which is firmly and aggressively pro-abortion,” Land said. “He then had the gall to quote that Scripture that ‘faith without works is dead.’ It would seem to me that faith without works would apply to saying that ‘I believe life begins at conception, but I am not going to do anything to protect an unborn baby from being killed by his mother.'”

Kerry reaffirmed his support of the 1973 Roe v. Wade opinion legalizing abortion and said Bush’s judicial nominations indicate he would like to overturn it.

When asked by Schieffer if he wanted to reverse Roe, Bush declined to respond directly.

“What he’s asking me is: ‘Will I have a litmus test for my judges?’ And the answer is: ‘No, I will not have a litmus test. I will pick judges who will interpret the Constitution, but I’ll have no litmus test,” Bush said.

Kerry charged that Bush wanted to leave his answer “in ambivalence or intends to undo [Roe].”

“I’m not going to appoint a judge to the [Supreme] Court who’s going to undo a constitutional right. … And I believe that the right of choice is a constitutional right,” Kerry said.

But Bush said that Kerry “clearly has a litmus test for his judges, which I disagree with.”

The country should promote a “culture of life,” the president said. “I think a hospitable society is a society where every being counts and every person matters.”

People should be able to agree on reducing the number of abortions by supporting adoption laws, funding maternity homes and teaching abstinence, Bush said.

Neither man addressed the issue of stem cell research. Kerry supports funding of embryonic stem cell research, while Bush opposes funds for research that requires the destruction of newly created embryos. Obtaining stem cells from an embryo results in the destruction of the usually less than week-old human being. Thus far, stem cells derived from adult cells — which does not require the destruction of an embryo — have had the most success.

Both men said their faith affects their policy decisions but they did not want to impose it on others.

His faith plays a “big part” in his life, Bush said. “But I’m mindful in a free society that people can worship if they want to or not. You’re equally an American if you choose to worship an Almighty and if you choose not to.

“But when I make decisions, I stand on principle, and the principles are derived from who I am,” he said.

Kerry said the president and he “have a difference of opinion about how we live out our sense of faith.”

He cited the biblical command to “love your neighbor as yourself,” adding, “And frankly, I think we have a lot more loving of our neighbor to do in this country and on this planet.

“And as president, I will always respect everybody’s right to practice religion as they choose — or not to practice — because that’s part of America,” Kerry said.

A transcript of the debate is available at www.debates.org, the website of the Commission on Presidential Debates.