Cheney: Let states decide gay marriage

`Freedom means freedom for everyone,' he says in break from Bush's position

August 25, 2004|By Richard Simon | Richard Simon,LOS ANGELES TIMES

DAVENPORT, Iowa - Vice President Dick Cheney, whose elder daughter is a lesbian, said yesterday that he believed that decisions about same-sex marriages should be left to the states, contending that "freedom means freedom for everyone."

Despite his personal view, Cheney added, President Bush favors an amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning such marriages. "The president makes policy for the administration," Cheney said.

His comments came in response to a question during an invitation-only town hall meeting in Davenport, a city both presidential campaigns have focused on in their competition to win Iowa. Cheney's remarks were his first this year on the gay marriage issue while campaigning.

Religious conservatives, a key part of the Republican coalition, strongly support a federal ban on same-sex marriage. But recent Senate debate on the issue showed that it is a divisive subject among GOP lawmakers. And Cheney's view represents a rare break by him from the party's conservative base.

"Lynne and I have a gay daughter, so it's an issue that our family is very familiar with," Cheney said yesterday. "With respect to the question of relationships, my general view is that freedom means freedom for everyone. People ... ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to.

"The question that comes up with respect to the issue of marriage is what kind of official sanction or approval is going to be granted by government. ... Historically, that's been a relationship that has been handled by the states. The states have made that basic fundamental decision in terms of defining what constitutes a marriage."

Cheney took a similar position in the 2000 campaign, when he said during the vice presidential candidates' debate that "people should be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to enter into."

Yesterday, Cheney said he could understand why Bush pushed for the proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriages after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court made such unions legal in that state.

"I think his perception was that the courts, in effect, were beginning to change, without allowing the people to be involved," Cheney said. "The courts ... were making the judgment for the entire country."

Asked later about the difference between Bush's and Cheney's positions on the constitutional amendment, Cheney spokeswoman Anne Womack said: "The vice president respects the president's right to make that decision."

In July, the Senate easily shelved the amendment. Only 48 senators voted to halt a filibuster against the amendment, far short of the 60 votes needed to cut off debate.

Cheney played no public role in debate on the proposal. But his comments yesterday prompted criticism from Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, which supports the traditional definition of marriage.

"I find it hard to believe the vice president would stray from the administration's position on defense policy or tax policy," he said. "For many pro-family voters, protecting traditional marriage ranks ahead of the economy and job creation as a campaign issue."

Cheryl Jacques, president of the gay and lesbian advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, said Cheney's position illustrates that same-sex marriage "is a personal issue that affects hard-working, taxpaying Americans."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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