(CNSNews.com) - In light of a Massachusetts court ruling Wednesday that the state's legislature cannot use civil unions as a substitute for so-called "gay marriages" in that state, many voters are asking where the Democrats competing for their party's presidential nomination stand on the issue.
While none of the leading Democratic candidates has openly supported homosexual "marriage," all four believe that homosexual partners should have the same legal rights and privileges as married couples.
The Massachusetts Senate had previously requested clarification of a November 2003 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling that homosexual couples have a right to "marry" under the state's constitution. In a four to three ruling, Wednesday, the court responded, saying that only fully equal "marriage" rights for homosexual couples would satisfy the state's constitutional requirements.
Although none of the four remaining likely Democrat nominees has openly supported homosexual "marriages," all four believe that the legal and societal privileges, until recently bestowed exclusively on traditional marriages, should be eliminated.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) refers to "protecting gay and lesbian families" on his website.
"Same-sex couples should be granted rights -- including access to pensions, health insurance, family medical leave, bereavement leave, hospital visitation, survivor benefits, and other basic legal protections -- that all families and children need," Kerry writes in a position statement entitled "A Record of Working on Behalf of Gay and Lesbian Americans.
Kerry supported legislation to provide unmarried partners of federal employees the same benefits that have been reserved for married federal employees and their spouses. He boasts of being the only senator standing for reelection in 1996 to oppose the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), one of only 14 who voted against it.
The Massachusetts Democrat openly supports civil unions, and believes that employers and government should be forced to provide the same health benefits, inheritance rights and survivor's benefits to homosexual partners that are currently offered voluntarily to spouses of married employees.
Retired Gen. Wesley Clark said that he "welcomed the [November 2003] Massachusetts court decision with open arms." Clark compared homosexual activists' quest to have their relationships recognized as "marriages" to the struggles of racial minorities seeking civil rights in the 1950s.
"Growing up in Little Rock in the 1950s, I saw first-hand how wrenching the fight for civil rights was," Clark wrote on his campaign website.
"In too many ways, the struggle for equal rights is still on-going. Today, one of the frontlines in the civil rights struggle runs through the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community," Clark continued. "We must always stand by the principle: every American should enjoy the exact same rights as every other American."
Dr. Howard Dean is the only one of the four Democrats to have successfully lobbied to give homosexual cohabitants rights and privileges equal to those of married spouses.
"I'm proud to say that as Governor of Vermont, I signed legislation to grant same [sex] couples the right to enter into civil unions," Dean boasts on his website. "This law, the first of its kind in the United States, guarantees lesbian and gay couples the same basic legal rights that married couples enjoy."
In contrast, Sen. John Edwards is the only candidate to have openly opposed "gay marriage," while taking a firm stand against the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would prohibit activist judges from creating such a legal category. Edwards supports marriage-like benefits and privileges for homosexual cohabitants, as well.
"As I have long said, I believe gay and lesbian Americans are entitled to equal respect and dignity under our laws," Edwards said in response to the court's November 2003 decision. "While I personally do not support gay marriage, I recognize that different states will address this in different ways, and I will oppose any effort to pass an amendment to the United States Constitution in response to the Massachusetts decision."
The Democrats' positions -- except for Edwards' "personal opposition" to homosexual "marriages" -- are in direct opposition to the beliefs of voters even in traditionally liberal Massachusetts, according to public opinion polling data reported by CNSNews.com Jan. 7.
According to the Zogby International poll, sixty-nine percent of likely Massachusetts' voters want to consider a constitutional amendment to protect traditional marriage in that state. The poll found that 69 percent of respondents felt it was better for children to be raised in a household with a married mother and father.
Half of all respondents said they think the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court overstepped its bounds in its decision to redefine marriage. Seventy-three percent of those surveyed felt that if homosexual couples want to provide for each other, they could to do so through private contractual arrangements already allowed under the law.
The poll also indicated that voters' opposition to homosexual marriage would impact their decision about political candidates.
When asked if they would be more or less likely to vote for a candidate who supports homosexual marriage, 33 percent would be less likely to vote for the candidate as opposed to only 16 percent who said they would be more likely to vote for a pro-homosexual "marriage" candidate.
The Zogby poll was conducted from Dec. 16-18, 2003, and 601 voters, chosen at random, were surveyed. The poll carries a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.
The presumptive Republican nominee appears to have heard the voters on the issue. President Bush, expressed his support for traditional one man-one woman marriage, and hinted that he would back the Federal Marriage Amendment, during his State of the Union address in January.
"A strong America must also value the institution of marriage. I believe we should respect individuals as we take a principled stand for one of the most fundamental, enduring institutions of our civilization," Bush said.
"Congress has already taken a stand on this issue by passing the Defense of Marriage Act, signed in 1996 by President Clinton. That statute protects marriage under federal law as a union of a man and a woman, and declares that one state may not redefine marriage for other states," the president added.
"Activist judges, however, have begun redefining marriage by court order, without regard for the will of the people and their elected representatives. On an issue of such great consequence, the people's voice must be heard," Bush continued.
"If judges insist on forcing their arbitrary will upon the people, the only alternative left to the people would be the constitutional process. Our nation must defend the sanctity of marriage," he said.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights, explained why the president's support for the Federal Marriage Amendment is crucial.
"In September, I chaired a hearing that asked whether [the Defense of Marriage Act] and other traditional marriage laws were in peril due to judicial activism. Following today's ruling, the answer increasingly appears to be 'yes,'" Cornyn said Wednesday.
"Do we let people and states, through their elected officials, decide the definition of marriage, or do we let activists judges overrule their decisions through court edict?" Cornyn asked rhetorically. "This is an important question that must be addressed before the decisions of one court in Massachusetts impacts and overrides the will of states well beyond the borders of the commonwealth."
Cornyn called for hearings "now" on the amendment.
"On an issue as fundamental as marriage," Cornyn concluded, "it is the job of the American people, through their legislators, to decide -- not the Massachusetts court."
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