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Open-minded on homosexual unions, Lieberman, Cheney say in debate

DANVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the Democratic candidate for vice president, and Dick Cheney, the Republican running mate, both indicated during their debate Oct. 5 they are open-minded about whether there should be some form of government approval of homosexual unions.

For Lieberman, such a move toward marriage-like benefits for homosexuals would seem consistent with his support in recent years of homosexual rights. Cheney’s response, however, left it unclear where he stood on civil rights based on sexual practice.

The debate at Centre College in Danville, Ky., is the lone one of the campaign for the two vice presidential candidates. It followed by two nights the first of three debates between the presidential opponents, Vice President Al Gore and GOP nominee George W. Bush, the governor of Texas.

The Lieberman-Cheney debate focused on many of the same issues addressed in the first presidential face-off, topics such as education, the budget surplus and the military. Moderator Bernard Shaw of CNN also questioned the VP choices on homosexuality and abortion.

When asked about “sexual orientation,” Lieberman made it clear he supported civil rights for homosexuals, citing his status as an original cosponsor of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act. ENDA would add “sexual orientation,” which includes homosexuality, to categories such as race, age and gender that receive protection in the workplace under the law.

The senator from Connecticut called the question of homosexual unions difficult because it “challenges the traditional notion of marriage as being limited to a heterosexual couple, which I support,” according to a transcript on the Internet site of The Washington Post.

“But I must say,” Lieberman said, “I’m thinking about this because I have friends who are in gay and lesbian partnerships who have said to me, ‘Isn’t it unfair that we don’t have similar legal rights to inheritance, to visitation when one of the partners is ill, to health-care benefits?’ And that’s why I’m thinking about it. And my mind is open to taking some action that will address those elements of unfairness while respecting the traditional religious and civil institution of marriage.”

Cheney, in response, said “like Joe, I also wrestle with the extent to which there ought to be legal sanction of those relationships.”

In a free society, Cheney said, “We don’t get to choose and shouldn’t be able to choose and say, ‘You get to live free, but you don’t.’

“And I think that means that people should be able to enter into any kind of relationship they want to enter into. It’s really no one else’s business in terms of trying to regulate or prohibit behavior in that regard.”

The next step is “whether or not there ought to be some kind of official sanction, if you will, of the relationship or if these relationships should be treated the same way a conventional marriage is,” Cheney said. “That’s a tougher problem. That’s not a slam dunk.”

The issue is handled by the states, he said. “I think different states are likely to come to different conclusions, and that’s appropriate,” Cheney said. “I don’t think there should necessarily be a federal policy in this area.

“I try to be open-minded about it as much as I can and tolerant of those relationships. I think we ought to do everything we can to tolerate and accommodate whatever kind of relationships people want to enter into.”

Cheney did not explicitly say, however, where he stood on proposals to grant civil rights based on homosexual behavior. As a conservative congressman from Wyoming for 10 years, he opposed pro-homosexual measures.

After his tenure as secretary of defense under President Bush, Cheney said he believed the ban on homosexuals in the military was appropriate.

Cheney’s younger daughter, Mary, is an open lesbian, having served as gay and lesbian marketing director for Coors Brewing Co. until recently, The Post has reported.

Lieberman’s comments did not address whether he had rethought votes in recent years in support of the Defense of Marriage Act, which opposed same-sex marriage, and in opposition to the promotion of homosexuality in public schools.

Homosexual advocates have made great progress in recent years in gaining rights and benefits in the public and private sectors. This year’s Democratic platform called for the “full inclusion of gay and lesbian families in the life of the nation,” including “an equitable alignment of benefits.”

Conservative religious bodies and pro-family organizations have sought to thwart such progress with uneven results. The Republican platform endorses marriage as only the legal union of a man and woman. Cheney’s comments on the issue are likely to have disappointed or baffled religious and social conservatives.

The Southern Baptist Convention has in recent years adopted resolutions opposing same-sex marriage and civil rights based on homosexuality. The convention’s public-policy agency, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, has consistently opposed legislative efforts to equate sexual preference with categories deserving of protection.

On the issue of abortion, Lieberman said he would not support a new congressional attempt to block distribution of the abortion drug RU 486. He affirmed his support, as well as that of Gore, for abortion rights. Cheney said he had not looked at the legislation on RU 486 and Bush had “made it clear the other night that he did not anticipate that he would be able to go in and direct the [Food and Drug Administration] to reverse course” on approval of the drug.

Bush and he would like to work with others to reduce the number of abortions, Cheney said, by promoting adoption, approving parental notification and banning partial-birth abortion, a method used normally in the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy on an almost totally delivered child.