House divided

August 26, 2004

VICE PRESIDENT Dick Cheney explained perfectly the other day why even a loyal, conservative backer of President Bush would be unsympathetic to his call for a constitutional amendment forbidding gay marriage.

"Lynne and I have a gay daughter, so it's an issue our family is very familiar with," Mr. Cheney said, answering a question at a campaign stop in Davenport, Iowa, where he and Mrs. Cheney appeared together. He went on to outline his "general view that freedom means freedom for everyone. People ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to."

As for the official sanction of marriage, the vice president said he believes that question should be left up to each state.

Such tolerance typically grows out of family ties or other close personal contacts with gays, who simply want to be able to live their lives with the same options afforded to other Americans.

When you know someone well, understand their needs, perhaps even love them as a child, a sibling, a parent, you aren't likely to support the notion of amending the Constitution to discriminate against them.

Many Republicans agree with Mr. Cheney - so many that gay rights advocates suspect the vice president's comments were intended to signal that President Bush isn't giving more than lip service to the constitutional amendment in order to please religious conservatives critical to his base.

If so, that would make Mr. Bush's position particularly craven. The draft platform that Republican delegates are expected to approve at the convention next week says the party "strongly supports" a constitutional amendment and warns that state or local bans on gay marriage could be overturned by "activist courts."

Dissenters hope to merely add language acknowledging disagreement on the issue.

Regardless of what the platform says, there obviously is a significant division of opinion within GOP ranks on a constitutional gay marriage ban. It is far short of the votes needed to pass in Congress because Republicans as well as Democrats oppose it.

Mr. Cheney dutifully noted that Mr. Bush has the last word on administration policy. But the vice president has proved to be a man of considerable influence. He should persuade the president to stop pandering to folks even Mr. Bush doesn't seem to truly agree with and drop the marriage plank altogether.

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