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Debate Afterthoughts

On Al Sharpton, Wesley Clark, Peter Jennings, and all the rest.

8:30 AM, Jan 23, 2004 • By DAVID TELL
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I'VE MENTIONED JOHN EDWARDS' "I'M NO EXPERT" REMARK about Islam. He made the same mistake again later in the debate, this time when questioned about gay marriage and the federal Defense of Marriage Act. "I don't claim to be an expert on this," he said. What was particularly interesting about this second--again, unfortunate--I dunno admission was that it revolved around the question whether other states should be required to recognize, and thereby offer their own government benefits on the basis of, civil union and gay marriage contracts entered under the laws of states like Hawaii and Howard Dean's Vermont. And what was interesting about Edwards' plea of ignorance was that here, I can't help suspecting that he wasn't telling the truth. "I think it's a decision"--yea or nay on gay marriage, etc--"that should be made on a state-by-state basis," Edwards offered. But he claimed to oppose the Defense of Marriage Act because "as I understand" it, that law forbids states ever to decide the answer should be yea.

Edwards' asserted "understanding" of the Defense of Marriage Act is wrong, of course. But that's not the point. The point, instead, is that the position he claimed to prefer, that each state be permitted to decide for itself whether to honor civil unions sanctioned by Howard Dean's Vermont, necessarily veers into constitutional territory I have to believe an unimpeachably accomplished attorney like Edwards knows cold--and has known cold since law school: Article IV, Section 1 of the Constitution. This stuff is complicated, there's no "obvious" correct answer. But nevertheless, our next question goes to Senator Edwards: Sir, how do you square your stated views on interstate reciprocity and gay marriages or civil unions with the "full faith and credit" clause?

David Tell is opinion editor of The Weekly Standard.