VP Candidates Engage in Freedom-to-Marry Debate

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Lambda notes progress and 'important' dialogue since 1996
October 6, 2000

(NEW YORK, October 6, 2000) – In a striking sign of the progress the country has made toward embracing gay people’s freedom to marry, the Republican and Democratic vice presidential candidates, during their nationally televised debate, spoke of how they themselves “wrestle with” and are “open to” questions of the legal rights due to same-sex couples.

Senator Joseph Lieberman, noting that marriage has been limited to heterosexuals, said, “But I must say, I’m thinking about this.... 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.”

Said former Defense Secretary Richard Cheney, “I think that people should be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to enter into. It’s really no one else’s business.... And like Joe, I also wrestle with the extent to which there ought to be legal sanction 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.”

Their searching comments, delivered during Thursday’s vice presidential debate, are in stark contrast to the caustic tone of 1996 congressional debate over the so-called “Defense of Marriage” Act (DOMA), when legislators – in an election year maneuver – blocked federal recognition of civil marriages for gay couples should they arise.

Since then, Vermont’s civil union law has increased national awareness about the importance of legal recognition and protection for lesbian and gay families, and a national poll has found three-quarters of the public say it is inevitable that same-sex couples will be able to marry.

“Sensing this shift in public awareness, both major party vice presidential candidates are moving towards full civil rights for lesbians and gay men, including the freedom to marry,” said Evan Wolfson, marriage project director for Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, commenting on the exchange. “They have reaffirmed that dialogue about gay people’s freedom to marry is appropriate, helpful, and important – and that dialogue, rather than attacks, must continue.”

However, he added, “It’s remarkable that today the candidates emphasize the importance of honestly grappling with these issues. Unfortunately, the right wing continues to try to shut down discourse by proposing laws which attempt to foreclose just the sorts of measures the candidates suggested.”

Anti-gay efforts on state ballots this November include an extremist measure in Nebraska to ban all family protections as well as any future legal marriages for gay couples. Wolfson also noted glaring differences in the two national parties’ platforms on the issue, despite the supportive comments of both vice presidential candidates.

Civil marriage, with its hundreds of legal protections and responsibilities, is not available to same-sex couples anywhere in the country. Vermont’s civil unions provide state but not federal protections. Domestic partner registries and benefits, now offered by growing numbers of states and cities and several thousand private employers, generally provide, at most, access to certain employment-related benefits such as family health coverage.

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Contact: Peg Byron 212-809-8585 ext. 230, 888-987-1984 (pager)
Evan Wolfson 212-809-8585 ext. 205


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